In 1923 Nino Barbantini, first Director of the Gallery of Modern Art of Ca' Pesaro, organized and set up the important exhibition dedicated to "The Venetian portrait of the nineteenth century". The exhibition was a huge success with the public and a lively response from the press. Even today it is considered an exhibition of capital importance for the rediscovery of Venetian art of an entire century, for the initiation of knowledge of its protagonists and the valorization of many of the masterpieces that were exhibited there. The initiative also inaugurated a new course for the Venetian Gallery and Barbantini's activity, aimed, during the 1920s, at planning significant monographic exhibitions on periods or individual protagonists of Italian art. “The Venetian portrait of the nineteenth century” is also central in defining the history of the exhibitions and constitutes a valid and early museographic example of an exhibition dedicated to a theme or a specific time period.
The catalog created by Barbantini includes 241 works by fifty artists, including painters, sculptors, miniaturists, all working from the beginning until the penultimate decade of the century, which for the scholar opens with Teodoro Matteini and closes with Giacomo Favretto. The list, organized in alphabetical order, in addition to scant biographical information on the authors, contains the names of the owners at the time. From this information began the strenuous work of research and identification of the works one hundred years after their exhibition at Ca' Pesaro. Many of them, also thanks to the success of the exhibition, ended up in public collections, while others remained with the heirs or, to a small extent, were definitively lost.
The exhibition that Ca' Pesaro presents offers a unique opportunity to reconstruct the 1923 exhibition and to see, reunited again, the faces of numerous protagonists of society, art, culture and the life of an enlarged territory that from the Venetian capital extends to Friuli Venezia Giulia. Not only Venice but also Treviso, Bassano, Padua, Trieste, Belluno, Udine, Pordenone, Caneva di Sacile, were the places in which the brilliant scholar identified the specimens that demonstrated, for the first time, the artistic greatness of a century that it was wanted to be forgotten for the sake of mythologizing the previous one.