Felice Casorati: the painter was born on
December 4th 1883 in Novara and died on March 1st 1963 in Turin.
His father was a regular army officer and an amateur painter. Famous
mathematicians and scientists had come from his family. Casorati grew up
in Milan, Reggio Emilia, Sassari and Padua, where he studied music and
was so assiduous that he ended up with a nervous breakdown at the age of
eighteen. During a resting period in Praglia, on the Euganean Hills, he
started to paint, and his first known work dates from this time : a
Paduan landscape painted in 1902.
Degree in law
In 1906 he took his degree in Law at the Padua University, but decided
to dedicate himself to an artistic career. Portrait of a lady, an
elegant painting of his sister Elvira, was admitted to the jury at the
Venice Biennial exhibition in 1907. From 1908 to 1911 he was in Naples,
and studied the work of Pieter Brughel, “The Old Man” (Il Vecchio), in
the collection at the National Museum.
His works were exhibited at the Biennials of 1909 and 1911; on the
latter occasion he remained highly impressed by the room dedicated to
Gustav Klimt. The symbolic and decorative style of the Viennese
Secession greatly influenced the subsequent works of Casorati. He moved
to live in Verona in 1911 and remained there until 1915. In 1914 he
founded, together with others, the magazine “La Via Lattea” (The Milky
Way) and he produced illustrations for it in the art nouveau style like
that of Jan Toorop and Aubrey Beardsley. During the last year he
frequented the artists of Cŕ Pesaro – Martini, Gino Rossi, Pio Semeghini,
whose European orientation introduced him to the recent artistic
developments of Paris and Munich.
Casorati was called up into the army in 1915. When his father died in
1917 he moved with his family to Turin, where he soon became a central
figure in the intellectual circles of the town. He became a friend of
the composer Alfredo Casella and of Piero Gobetti, joining the
“Rivoluzione Liberale “ (Liberal Revolution) group in 1922. In 1923, due
to his friendship with the anti-fascist Gobetti, he was arrested and
spent some days in prison; after this episode he avoided open conflict
with the regime.
First personal exhibition
In his more mature works, after the war, (“Portrait of Silvana Cenni,”
1922 and “Afternoon”,1923), decorative detail was substituted by the
meditation of an essential form, influenced by the mathematical spatial
structures of 15th century painting, and especially by the atmosphere of
immobility typical of the works of Piero della Francesca. In 1924
Casorati held a personal exhibition at the Venice Biennial, accompanied
by an authoritative presentation in the catalogue by Lionello Venturi.
“Magic real ism”
The crystalline purity and the enigmatic tone of Casorati’s
compositions contributed to delineate the “magic realism” which was
originally shared by the “Twentieth century” group. Although he took
part at the “Twentieth century” exhibition in 1926 and in 1929, Casorati
remained independent from the movement of Mergherite Sarfatti. During
the ‘twenties he held a guiding role in Italian cultural life. In 1923
he opened a school for young artists in his studio in Via Mazzini, Turin.
Among his pupils were Francesco Menzio, Carlo Levi, Gigi Chessa and
Jessie Boswell who later became part of the “six painters of Turin”.
Fine Arts Society
In 1930 he married Daphne Maugham , who had attended his school since
1926; also his son Francesco became a painter. In 1925 he was among the
founders of the Antonio Fontanesi Fine Arts Society, to promote
exhibitions of contemporary nineteenth century Italian and foreign
artists. His friendship with the entrepreneur collector Riccardo Gualino
encouraged Casorati’s interest for interior design. In 1925 he worked
with Alberto Sartoris on the theatre for Gualino’s house. At the third
Monza Biennial exhibition of decorative art he worked with Sartoris on
the “commercial road” for the Piedmontese pavilion; he also designed
the lobby of the Architecture Exhibition at the Milan Triennial in 1933.
In 1935 the studio of Casorati and Enrico Paulucci held the first
collective exhibition of Italian abstract art, which included works of
Licini, Melotti and Fontana. Casorati won the painting award at the
Venice Biennial in 1938. He also received official recognition at the
important exhibitions in Paris, Pittsburgh and San Francisco at the end
of the ‘thirties. He was very active in the creation of scenery and
costumes for the Rome opera house, the Scala opera house in Milan and
May music season, and he continued this activity also after the war.
In 1952 he held a personal exhibition at the Venice Biennial, and with
Ottone Rosai he received the special presidency award.
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