The Italian 20th Century

Discover the complex developments and crucial moments wich charachterized the first half of the 20th century in Italy though these artworks.

By Gallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

View of the countryside (1904) by Plinio NomelliniGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

In the period spanning between the painting Veduta di campagna by Plinio Novellini in 1904 and the 1960s of Renato Guttuso and Pietro Consagra, Italy experiences some tragic events: the two World Wars; twenty years of Fascism with its contradictions between promotion and creative commissions of new artworks and political control over society; and the exciting years of post-war reconstruction and the burning debate between realism and abstraction.

The Beach of Deauville by Pietro De FranciscoGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The beginning of the new century saw many painters of the new generations joining Divisionism, a technique mirroring the experiments, which had been flourishing in Europe during the last decades of the nineteenth century and were based on colour separation and the positivist trust that a rational representation of objects and light was possible.

Gust of wind (1920) by Plinio NomelliniGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

In Italy, Divisionism took on unique characteristics: on the one hand, symbolist abstraction, resulting from the crisis of naturalistic optimism; on the other, in particular in the industrialised northern part of Italy, the progressive engagement which, especially after the Second World War, started to decline towards intimism and contemplative withdrawal. This was true for Nomellini, the painter from Livorno, who seemed to be completely bewitched by the power of colour and brushstroke in his paintings Veduta di campagna of 1904 or in the later and joyful Colpo di vento.

The model (1915) by Arturo NociGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Another intriguing display of style is the painting La modella by the Roman painter Arturo Noci, who was soon to turn his back to Divisionism. The painting seemed to be solidly shaped between sun and shadow with its filamentary brushwork.

Summer morning (1913) by Aleardo TerziGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The Sicilian Aleardo Terzi was also attracted by the expressive techniques of Divisionism and he skilfully built his Mattino d’estate with small pieces of pure colour, drenched in light and with an extraordinary frame.

At the Dressing Table (1906) by Camillo InnocentiGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The Roman artist Camillo Innocenti in his sophisticated Alla toeletta proves to be equally close to the exquisite atmospheres and signature of the Parisian-by-adoption Giovanni Boldini by fully showing his skill, acknowledged by contemporary critics, to pick delicate and fragile aspects of the contemporary life and world of women.

Fiorenzo ate (1921) by Aldo CarpiGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

After the end of the First World War, which had swept away the experimental enthusiasm of avant-garde movements, the lure of reality and practicality had become irresistible in each field, an almost necessary and rational pretext following the emotional and creative chaos which had prevailed during the previous years.

Portrait of Domenico Trentecoste (1925) by Giannino MarchigGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

From the pages of Valori Plastici, sensible and committed artists such as Giorgio De Chirico, Alberto Savinio, Ardengo Soffici and Carlo Carrà aimed to return to Italian classical culture and crystal-clear models of purity expressed by the painting of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which were considered as an eternal and universal value on which to lay the foundations of a strong national tradition.

The Marriage (1934) by Massimo CampigliGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

This standpoint prevailed during the 1920s but with variations which were often markedly different one from the other. A remarkable contribution was provided by the artistic experience of Mario Sironi who, shortly after, would be the father of a new mural and monumental painting together with Massimo Campigli (Le nozze 1934).

The Tramway (1920) by Mario SironiGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The latter, as archaic and educated in his references as antiheroic, showed in his painting Le nozze (1934) a fresh classicism which did not refuse being contaminated by contemporary reality, rather preferring the representation of a troubled industrial and metropolitan modernity (Il tram, 1920).

The Soap Bubble (1927) by Cagnaccio di San Pietro (Natale Scarpa)Gallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Also, the extremely purely optical definition of Cagnaccio di San Pietro follows in the footsteps of the great Italian drawing tradition. He created images of a perfect and almost vitrified objectivity, which characterise paintings such as Bolla di sapone of 1927.

Lake Iseo by Arturo TosiGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The aspiration of the 1900s to achieve a rational order of vision also influenced landscape painting. While taking into account the tradition of the 1800s in Lombardy but with the addition of a new spatiality, solid and architectural, majestic and basic at the same time, the painting of Arturo Tosi came to the fore. He was the soul of the executive committee of the Novecento group.

Gli scolari (1927/1928) by Felice CasoratiGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

It seems evident that in the 1930s a ‘great desire for shape is in the air’ as wrote Lionello Venturi when he presented the solo exhibition of Felice Casorati at the 14th Venice Biennale in 1924. More than any other, the painter from Novara embodied ‘the spirit of the times’ and became the interpreter of melancholic and enchanted solitudes whose search for formal control became almost abstraction. Figures and objects are still, essential, and distant from the chromatic and linear perfection, almost absorbed in an enigmatic, suspended, and very personal classicism as testified in the painting Gli Scolari of 1927-1928.

Naked girl (1934) by Francesco TrombadoriGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

In the rich variety of outcomes and versions, voluntarily abstracted, the polished purity of the painter Francesco Trombadori from Syracuse emerged. He managed to paint in a meticulous, analytical and timeless way, rich in educated references to be connected to the climate of Magic Realism, which characterised the so-called School of Rome since the early 1930s.

Moses Rescued (1934) by Fausto PirandelloGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The School was actually touched by a great heterogeneity of experiences and contributions, as testified by the complex evolution of Fausto Pirandello, who was often misunderstood by the contemporary generation. His dense and disharmonious painting expressed an existential drama, which was understandable, on the verge of the Second World War.

Chronicle of the time (1932) by Corrado CagliGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

An inexorable, progressive ‘crisis’ of the form emerged, while the decade progressed towards its tragic destiny in the war, in Corrado Cagli’s troubled experimentations in search of new myths and a different pictorial and formal freedom, no longer bound to complying with tradition. In 1935, his Cronache del tempo, four large paintings on wood devoid of bodily or perspective solidity

Four Images on a Grey Background (1972) by Pietro ConsagraGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Once the war ended, Pietro Consagra spoke of a ‘need for sculpture’ intended as a form of art participating in man and his reality.

Nude (circa 1960) by Renato GuttusoGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

it was precisely the painter from Bagheria who became the interpreter of a new art, politically engaged, transgressive from time to time, not imbued with abstract nationalism but with vivid Mediterranean spirit, a mirror of that curious and desecrating vitality which characterised the best part of the intellectual experience of the twentieth century in Italy.
He explored this opportunity together with some equally engaged colleagues in the attempt to revamp the figurative languages

Figure, Light and Atmosphere (1920) by Pippo RizzoGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The section presenting the Novecento (the 1900s) movement in Sicily opens with the self-portrait by Pippo Rizzo titled Figura, luce, atmosfera. In 1920, it testified to the painter’s decision to join Futurism, which he had developed in Rome when he was in contact with the group led by Balla. After his return to Palermo in 1922, Rizzo started to work with some painters and gathered the Artisti Siciliani Indipendenti, Sicilian Independent Artists, in 1924, the first radical attempt to innovate art in Sicily.

The Nomad (1929) by Pippo RizzoGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Il nomade painted by Pippo Rizzo in 1929 is a statement of modernity, the iconic representation of a contemporary man who is the protagonist in the era of modern civilization made of machines and movement. It was the last Futurist painting by Pippo Rizzo, which he executed in 1929, the same year as the second art exhibition which was held at the Teatro Massimo and gathered and placed emphasis on emerging painters.

The classy man (1928) by Alberto BevilacquaGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The exhibition featured the painting L’elegantone, a masterpiece of one of the most intense and original young painters in Sicily, namely Alberto Bevilaqua from Palermo, who had met with great appreciation the previous year at the Venice Biennale where he had displayed L’allenatore di cavalli. His works bear witness to the unique ironic and detached approach, a novelty for Italy, which Bevilacqua adopted in his use of the Novecento language.

The coach of the horses by Alberto BevilacquaGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

In his works, he achieves a strictly personal synthesis between references to the ‘grotesque’ side of German Expressionism with Dix and Grosz and the modern Ecole di Paris are ironically put alongside the consolidated and widespread stylistic elements of the Italian Novecento movement. At the exhibition of 1929 in Palermo he was officially recognised as a highly original voice in modern Sicilian painting, so Bevilacqua was immediately invited to participate in the collective exhibition of Sicilian artists at the Camerata degli Artisti in Rome.

Springtime (1929) by Manlio GiarrizzoGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

At the Second Art Exhibition of the Sicilian Fascist Union of the Fine Arts in 1929, there was also the first solo exhibition of Manlio Giarrizzo. The purchase of his painting La primavera from the Podestà (the equivalent of the mayor during Fascism) for the Gallery of Modern Art of Palermo became the highest official recognition of the artist which came in parallel to the beginning of his exhibiting career at a national level.

The Nurse (1931) by Lia Pasqualino NotoGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

One of the protagonists of the Sicilian Novecento, Lia Pasqualino Noto had her first solo exhibition at the Third Art Exhibition of the Sicilian Fascist Union of the Fine Arts in Sicily, which was held at the Teatro Massimo on February 1932. Her painting L’infermiera combined the well-established and common stylistic motifs of the Novecento movement, such as well sketched contours, a palette harmonised on medium hues with a prevalence of grey, an architectural construction of figures and composition, to the frozen and suspended atmosphere referring to the outcomes of Magic Realism and New German Objectivity.

Figure (1931) by Leo CastroGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The exhibition of 1932 also saw the participation of Figura (Sicilian girl) by Leo Castro, a painter who had joined the group of Sicilian Independent Artists in 1928. Castro turned up for his appointment with the Novecento with a personal style that combined the lesson of Naturalism of its masters, namely Lojacono and Salvatore Marchesi, with Post-Impressionism references and emotionality in the manner of Tosi. Modern critics deem that style to be an unknowing and even involuntary reaction to the Novecento itself.

Woman and Child (1930) by Elisa Maria BoglinoGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Completely different is Donna e bimbo, the masterpiece by Elisa Maria Boglino purchased by the Gallery of Palermo at the Venice Biennale in 1930. Arrived in Palermo in 1927, the Danish painter was involved by Pippo Rizzo in the life of the young Sicilian painters and she stood out for the originality and strong impact of her Novecento style with a clear European mark. She brought to the group of Independent Artists themes and forms of German contemporary painting, from Expressionism to New Objectivity by Max Beckmann and Otto Dix.

Credits: Story

Coordinamento Rosanna Piscione, testi Gabriella Sciortino per Civita Sicilia.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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