Gino Severini - Galleria d'arte - Galleria dello scudo

Gino Severini

    Severini, Gino (Cortona 1883 – Paris 1966).
    He moved from Tuscany to Rome in 1899 where he frequented Corazzini, Cambellotti, and Boccioni; together with them he became interested in socialist ideas, at the same time studying art and philosophy. When Giacomo Balla returned from Paris, Severini demonstrated an explicit interest in the artist’s Divisionist ideas. In 1906 he settled in Paris and became friends with Modigliani, Dufy, Utrillo, Braque, Picasso, Gris, and Jacob. In the meantime he frequented the poet and dramatist Paul Fort, whose daughter he was to marry in 1913, and the group of writers who would meet up in the Cloiseries de Lilas. In 1910 he was one of those who signed the Manifesto of Futurist Painting, and then the Technical Manifesto of Painting; later on he was to say that he did not feel particularly close to Italian Futurism but, rather, to a kind of Futurism more influenced by French ideas, with its similarities to the Divisionism of Seurat and Signac. In 1912 he took part in the Futurist exhibition held at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in Paris, and then in the Marlborough Gallery, London, in 1913. At the same time however, he did not forget his interest in Cubism, various characteristics of which he absorbed and interpreted, even while remaining faithful to a dynamic conception of the object represented, in other words its internal vibrations and its connections to the mathematical rules of order and universal harmony.
    He and his wife Jeanne Fort returned to Italy from 1913 to 1914, but at the outbreak of the First World War they returned to Paris. In this period he began his Cubist-Futurist interpretations of the war, works which were exhibited in a solo show at the Galerie Boutet de Monvel in 1916. But, together with his starting point in the French and Italian avant-gardes, Severini’s art progressively developed the idea of a “scientific” method of representation in art; this he derived from Ozenfant, formalist Purism, the Abbaye de Creteil milieu, and the mathematician Bricard. At the same time, however, he also rediscovered his interest in the great Renaissance tradition. And so in the period of his collaboration with the Purist-inspired magazines “Élan” and “SIC”, in 1916 Severini revealed an early and stunning new proposal of Classicism in which he searched for a full and calm figuration, as can be seen in the paintings Maternità and Ritratto di Jeanne. In 1919 he signed a contract with the Parisian dealer Rosemberg who was assembling various artists around the Effort Moderne gallery. However, he did not overlook his relationships with Italy. In fact, in 1919, together with Rosemberg, he edited the second issue of the magazine “Valori Plastici” and formalised the group’s relationship with contemporary work in Paris.
    In 1920 he began writing the text of Du Cubisme au Classisme, published in the following year, though it was treated with great reserve by the French. In 1921 he returned to Italy because, thanks to the mediation of Rosemberg, he had been asked to fresco a room in Montegufoni Castle, in the Tuscan countryside, the property of the aristocratic Englishmen Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell. The themes of this series were taken from Italian commedia dell’arte and represent masks and playful subjects, though with a more rigorous representation of the figures. So here Severini was able to employ the rules of a classical realism and harmony, of an ancient illusionistic learning, by recuperating both traditional fresco techniques and the spirit behind the geometric and compositional properties of mathematics, together with a new interpretation of the Picasso-inspired theme of masks. Having returned to Paris he became influenced by Jacques Maritain and rediscovered the values of modern Roman Catholicism; at the same time as Jacob, Cocteau, and Denis, he became interested in the expression of the mystical character of religious painting. In 1924 he took part in the competition for decorating the new church in Semsales, in the canton of Freiburg; the actual fresco decoration of the church was undertaken in 1926. He was later asked to decorate the church of La Roche, and fully developed a style that Maritain described as “the transcendental realism of the classical spirit”. In 1926 he took part in the first exhibition of the Novecento Italiano group, though only in the catalogue and not in the actual exhibition. He was, instead, present in the second show of the Sarfatti group. In 1929 he painted some canvases for a room in Rosemberg’s home, once again based on the theme of the commedia dell’arte against a background of Piranesi-like ruins.
    In 1930 he planned and undertook the decorations for the church of Tavannes, in Switzerland, and for Saint Peter’s church in Freiburg. At the same time he undertook an intense activity of illustrations for his literary friends Valery, Fort, and others. After the highly successful show held at the Amsterdam Konsthandel in December 1931, and in the following year he exhibited at the Venice Biennale in the section devoted to Italian artists in Paris. In 1933, influenced by Sironi’s publication in the same year of the Manifesto of Mural Painting, Severini created the large mosaic wall for the reception hall of Palazzo della Triennale in Milan. On that occasion he made friends with Edoardo Persico. During the 1930s, despite the dramatic loss of his son, Severini continued to paint, above all decorative series with sacred subjects, as in the apse of the church of Nôtre Dame in Lausanne, a building designed by his architect friend Dumas. In the same decade he designed sets for the Maggio Musical in Florence, and La Fenice theatre in Venice.
    In 1945-46 he made the preparatory cartoons for a Via Crucis, realised in mosaic in his hometown of Cortona. His late production, until 1940, once more made use of pointillism and a Cubist-Futurist compositional layout, at times with a Dada influence. After an exacting anthological show organised by Palazzo Venezia, Rome, he returned to Paris where he was to die in 1966.

    Giovanna Uzzani in La pittura in Italia. Il Novecento (1900-1945), Milan, 1997.