Palma Bucarelli

Palma Bucarelli (1910 –  1998) was an Italian arts administrator, the director of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (GNAM) in Rome from 1942 to 1975.

Early life

Palma Bucarelli was born in Rome. She earned a degree in art history at the Sapienza University of Rome.[1]


As a young art historian she worked at the Galleria Borghese and in Naples. During her thirty-three years as head of the Italian National Gallery of Modern Art, Bucarelli was responsible for protecting the gallery’s collections from damage while it was closed during World War II; she arranged to place paintings and sculptures in historic buildings including the Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant’Angelo.[2] She was one of the Italian delegates to the First International Congress of Art Critics, held in 1948 in Paris.[3]


After the war, she oversaw such events as exhibitions of works by Pablo Picasso (1953), Piet Mondrian (1956), Jackson Pollock (1958), Mark Rothko (1962), and the Gruppo di Via Brunetti (1968). She defended controversial works such as Piero Manzoni‘s ‘”Merda d’Artista” and Alberto Burri‘s “Sacco Grande” (1954).[1] Her strong support for abstract and avant-garde works made international headlines in 1959, when she was accused of a bias against figurative art in a public debate.[4] In 1961 she was in the United States, where she gave a lecture in Sarasota, Florida[5] and attended the opening of a major exhibit on Futurism at the Detroit Institute of Arts.[6]

Personal life

Palma Bucarelli married her longtime partner, journalist Paolo Monelli, in 1963. She died in Rome in 1998, from pancreatic cancer, aged 88 years. Her personal collection of art was donated to the National Gallery. Her famously elegant wardrobe was donated to the Boncompagni Ludovisi Decorative Art Museum in Rome. A street near the GNAM was renamed in her memory.[2] The Gallery mounted a show about her influence, “Palma Bucarelli: Il museo come avanguardia”, in 2009.[7]



  1. ^ Jump up to: a b Lucia Livia Mannella, “Palma Bucarelli” Vogue Italia Encyclo.
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b “Palma Bucarelli” Dictionary of Art Historians.
  3. Jump up ^ Denys Sutton, “The First International Congress of Art Critics” College Art Journal 8(2)(Winter 1948): 130.
  4. Jump up ^ Paul Hofmann, “Art Impartiality Pledged by Italy” New York Times (March 7, 1959): 43.
  5. Jump up ^ “Italian Art Expert’s Talk is Tonight” Tampa Bay Times (9 November 1961): 13. via Newspapers.comopen access publication – free to read
  6. Jump up ^ Kathie Norman, “VIPs Impressed” Detroit Free Press (17 October 1961): 17. via Newspapers.comopen access publication – free to read
  7. Jump up ^ Laura Larcan, “Un Direttore di nome Palma Bucarelli, la Guggenheim di Roma” la Repubblica (26 June 2009).

American Girl in Italy

Ninalee Allen Craig, subject of iconic ‘American Girl in Italy’ photos, dies at 94.

“American Girl in Italy” was taken in Florence in 1951 and featured Ninalee Allen, 23 at the time. (Ruth Orkin Photo Archive)
May 3 at 7:09 PM
In August 1951, at a $1-a-night hotel in Florence, two American women came face to face in the hallway one morning.

The drone and my school class

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Last week one of the finest young men I’ve known here or anywhere showed me some videos he made with his drone.  They were so amazing.  He brought his drone to school on Friday and he made some cool videos out the balcony window.

And he shot this of my class:  from left to right, Livio, Lorenzo, Lauretta, Rosa and Jay.  Thanks Livio!  This was the most fun I’ve had at school the whole time!!


American girl in Italy; marking an advance in women’s liberation

In 1951 a talented American photographer, Ruth Orkin, shot this iconic picture in Florence. She called it “American girl in Italy.”


The background of the photo is the corner where the Via Roma meets the Piazza della Repubblica, the location of the Belle Epoche Cafe Gilli in Florence that I mentioned recently. In the fabulous black and white photograph, a single, young, very attractive woman passes through a typical group of Florentine men, from young to old, who often gather at such intersections.  Remember that this was shortly after WWII, and unemployment was high.

Any American woman who has traveled in Italy alone will recognize the moment captured in the photo.  You can almost hear the “ciao, bella!” that always accompanies such interactions.  Italian men simply cannot stop themselves from appreciating a lovely female.  It just goes with the territory. As they lean against the wall of the café or sit on a Lambretta motor scooter, the men just cannot not look at the girl.  Let’s be honest, it’s a part of what we all love about Italy!

On the day the picture was created, Orkin noted in her diary: “Shot Jinx in morn in color—at Arno & Piazza Signoria, then got idea for pic story. Satire on Am. girl alone in Europe.”

When Orkin said “Jinx” she was using the nickname of Ninalee Craig who was 23 years old and six foot tall.  Jinx had caught Orkin’s eye on the morning of August 21, 1951 at the Hotel Berchielli, located near the Arno River in Florence.  Not only was Jinx strikingly tall–much taller than the average Italian man of the period–but Orkin described Jinx as “luminescent.”  She certainly appears that way in these photos.

Jinx had recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, NY and had gone to Italy to study art and be “carefree.”  Something that earlier generations of American women would not have had the opportunity to do.

In 1951, Craig was a carefree college graduate who had quit her job in New York and bought a third-class ticket on a ship bound for Europe. She spent more than six months making her way through France, Spain and Italy all by herself — something no woman did in the years before World War II.  It was rare indeed for a single woman to tour Europe alone after the war.

Jinx traveled as inexpensively as she could, and when she found a hotel on the Arno where she could stay for $1 per night, she checked in.  As luck would have it, there she met another brave solo female traveler: 29 year old professional photographer Ruth Orkin, who had traveled to Italy after completing an professional assignment during two months in Israel.

Orkin, a freelance photographer, was herself a fearless young woman.  When she was just 17, Orkin journeyed alone from her home in Los Angeles to New York City; she did the whole trip on bike and by hitch-hiking.  This was not your typical female experience by any stretch of the imagination.

When they met in Florence, Jinx and Ruth, both traveling on budgets, compared notes about traveling solo.  They agreed that it was great fun to see Europe on their own, with only a few minor difficulties.

During their conversation in Florence, the two young women came up with an idea: they would wander around Florence the following morning and capture on film what it felt like for a single woman to do the normal tourist activities in fabulous Florence.

As agreed, the following day they set out about 10 a.m. and shot pictures near the Arno, on the Piazza della Signoria, at the straw market (which I wrote about here), and so on. Jinx Allen wore separates of a top and a belted gathered skirt; this was a trendy outfit, named “The New Look” when it was introduced by Christian Dior in 1947.  She accessorized her outfit with a white pendant on a chain around her neck and an orange Mexican rebozo or shawl over her shoulder.

Orkin was on the lookout for great moments to capture with her Contax camera. When she saw the reaction of the 15 men near the Cafe Gilli, she snapped the iconic picture.  She is said to have then asked Allen to retrace her steps and clicked again. Both Orkin and Jinx later said that there was no staging or prearranging.  Jinx herself would later say that “The men were not arranged or told how to look…That is how they were in August 1951.”

Several of Orkin’s photos were published for the first time in the September 1952 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, as part of a story offering travel tips to young women traveling solo.  Again, this was something the mothers and grandmothers of Jinx and Orkin would never have been allowed to do.  It just was not done.  Even adventurous women never traveled alone.



Jinx bargains for straw bags at the straw market.



Jinx walks out of a shop that has the usual beaded curtains used as a screen to keep insects out.



Jinx is perhaps interrupted (while putting on lipstick?) by a young Italian admirer who has been drinking a Coca Cola and reading the International Herald Tribune.



Jinx photographed as if she is reading a letter from home which she has just collected from the Florence American Express office.  Back in the day, before cellphones and the internet, this is how people communicated.



A very tired looking Jinx sitting with her guidebook (?) and sunglasses near a famous Florentine fountain.  I think Jinx was play-acting the tired part.  I love the detail of her obviously Italian leather sandals.  This is a beautiful version of the flat sandals one could buy and can still buy in Florence or Capri.



Jinx rides a bicycle around Florence and stops with her tourist map to ask for directions from a uniformed officer.  You can see similar scenes as this in Florence today.


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Jinx wearing head gear for motoring around Florence with a guy.



Jinx wandering through crazy traffic that was already a nuisance in Italy.

Many years later, in 2011, Jinx Allen was living in Toronto when an exhibition of Orkin’s photographs was held there.  Jinx was then known as Ninalee Craig, her real first name and her married last name, and she vividly recalled the day of the shooting. “We were literally horsing around,” she said and, at age 84, she was photographed in standing next to the iconic Orkin photo. Reminiscing about the day itself as well as the bright orange shawl she wore that day, Mrs. Craig wore the shawl she had kept all those years.

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“Men who see the picture always ask me: Was I frightened? Did I need to be protected? Was I upset?” Craig said. “They always have a manly concern for me. Women, on the other hand, look at that picture, and the ones who have become my friends will laugh and say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful? Aren’t the Italians wonderful? … They make you feel appreciated!’”

“At no time was I unhappy or harassed in Europe,” says Craig. Her expression in the photo is not one of distress, she says; rather, she was imagining herself as the noble, admired Beatrice from Dante’s Divine Comedy. To this day she keeps a “tacky” postcard she bought in Italy that year—a Henry Holiday painting depicting Beatrice walking along the Arno—that reminds her “of how happy I was.”

Mrs. Craig further related that although none of Orkin’s pictures of her made it into the Herald Tribune, the American Girl in Italy  was published as part of a feature entitled “Don’t Be Afraid To Travel Alone” in 1952 in Cosmopolitan magazine, “by which time I was back in New York. It was also blown up in Grand Central Station, used as part of a promotion by Kodak, which horrified my father. He had no idea I was walking around Italy in that way.”



Of the many photos Orkin took that happy Florentine day in 1951, my favorite is this one of Jinx going crazy for the sculpture of the Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna. in the Loggia dei Lanzi, just off the Piazza della Signoria, seen here.



You can read more about this lovely intersection between art and serendipity, between Orkin and Jinx,  between the new and old ways available for women, on these sites:

American Girl in Italy: The Travel Story Behind the Iconic Picture

Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive

American Girl


Ciao, bella!