History & Legends

Portofino, a World apart
February 2016

Michele Cascella, ambassador of Portofino

Portofino Michele Cascella

Michele Cascella arrived in Portofino in the 1930’s, but he had already begun to love the hamlet even before seeing it thanks to the stories of Salvator Gotta. He was convinced immediately that it was the ideal place for a painter who valued above all, contact with nature, the open air, the sky, and the countryside. He therefore decided to buy a little two level house in the famous Portofino Piazzetta. It had a small terrace where the eye could scan the range from the peninsula to the mountain. Later he also rented a little house beneath the Brown castle in the middle of the olive groves which became his open air studio, the house of Faffy as he loved to call it. From those cliffs he painted the little piazza, surrounded by the olive groves which reminded him of Abruzzo.

Michele Cascella, or Michelone as his friends called him, lived a good long life with his first wife from the Soviet Union, his daughter Annusa, and his friends. In his own way he was worldly with his great bald head, blue eyes, his wrinkled velvet pants, turtleneck sweater, and the ever present pipe hanging from his mouth, always on the lookout for new images to immortalize on canvas. With his big rough voice, friendly and cordial with the Portofinians, he was often to be found at the tables of the Delfino restaurant where he painted portraits of the brothers Rino and Gigi Velo, who at that time, along with “Poppo” long time mayor of the town, managed the restaurant. A splendid sketch done of Paraggi in 1939, with the beach, the long row of red cabins, the bathhouses, the big beach umbrellas, the bathers, the sails, and the pedal boats, captures a marvelous moment in the palpitating world of a hot August beach.

Portofino Michele Cascella Portofino

Then there were the exhibitions at the Azienda di Soggiorno under the auspices of Salvator Gotta. The last onewas in 1980 prepared by the Marosa Gallery that had opened in an apartment in the Piazzetta above the trattoria “Navicello”. At an advanced age Cascella remarried a Viennese woman who lived in America and who helped him in his ever longer transatlantic journeys. We remember the pleasure he took in telling how during an exhibit in New York he sold a landscape to a Hollywood actor who would later become president of the United States, Ronald Reagan. He told the storyof when King Victor Emanuel III visited a collective where he was exhibiting some of his work. At a certain point the sovereign turned to him and asked; “What town are you from?” and “How many inhabitants are there?” After getting his answer he passed by. We remember also the dejection Michelone felt when he was not admitted to the Biennial of 1910, he who just a few years later had a personal parlour reserved at the Quadrennial in Rome.

Portofino Michele Cascella Paraggi Pini

Shortly thereafter a great reception was prepared for his paintings in the Galleria 23 in Rue La Boitier in Paris. In more recent times Cascella stayed occasionally in the little house in Colle Val d’Elsa, without abandoning his house in town. He loved to say “In California they want flowers, landscapes, and Portofino”, thus, he tirelessly painted pastels and oils to bring there. On her first visit to Portofino, Mrs. Dianne Feinstein, then mayor of San Francisco, was admiring the Piazzetta and the port from the balcony of the Fanfani home when she said: “I already knew them through the paintings of Cascella”. Life was generous to Michelone who arrived at a venerable age.  Lucid and rugged, he was an unforgettable interpreter and ambassador of the nature, colours, and of life itself in Portofino, one of the eight wonder of the world, where he spent many pleasurable and creative hours.

Michele Cascella
1892 – 1989

Portofino,a World apart.