Giuseppe Capogrossi - Galleria d'arte - Galleria dello scudo

Giuseppe Capogrossi

    Capogrossi, Giuseppe (Rome 1900-1972).
    His father, Guglielmo, belonged to an ancient and noble Roman family, that of Counts Capogrossi Guarna. His mother, Beartice Tacchi Venturi, came from a family originally from San Severino Marche. An all-important figure for the artist was his mother’s brother, Pietro Tacchi Venturi, secretary general to the Jesuits who was in personal contact with Mussolini, to the point of helping with the diplomatic negotiations for the Lateran Pacts. He was also a well-known religious historian. Having finished his classical studies, in 1918 Capogrossi fought on Mount Adamello in the Trento region. After the war, his mother pushed him to study law and to involve himself with the ministry for war pensions.
    In 1922 he graduated and his Jesuit uncle found him work in the professional studio of Giambattista Conti who, besides his work frescoing and decorating churches, was also active in the graphics sector. Here he was an apprentice, but at the same time he was drawing and painting from life compositions of objects, making portraits of his colleagues at work, and making copies of the great masters (Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca). In 1923 he went to one of the most respected life study schools, the one run by Felice Carena in Rome. Here he painted still-lifes and portraits of women; he became friends with the young painter from Puglia, Emanuele Cavalli, whose lively intellectual and spiritual life fascinated him. In about 1925 he began to frequent Casa d’Arte Bragaglia, the only place in Rome open to all new trends. Here in 1927 he took part in the CXLIV Colletiva Romana, a group show in which were to be seen Giorgio de Chirico, Riccardo Francalancia, Virgilio Guidi, Francesco Trombadori, and others. His first solo show was in 1927, together with Cavalli and Francesco Di Cocco, and held in the Dinesen hotel. Here he exhibited small works: a self-portrait (probably bought by Emanuele Fiano, one of the great collectors in the 1920s), and a few landscapes and views of Rome. Between 1927 and 1931 he frequently went to Paris of which, however, we have very little documentation.
    In the meantime, in 1930 he took part in the XVII Venice Biennale. In 1931 he formed a partnership with Cavalli which was soon extended to Corrado Cagli too. In 1932, at the III Mostra del Sindacato Regionale Fascista Belle Arti del Lazio, he exhibited seven works, among which Arlecchino (1931), and Donna con velo (1931) which were still influenced by his studies of artists while in Paris (the Impressionists, Picasso, André Derain). The new partnership was backed by Pier Maria Bardi, director of the Rome national gallery and the promoter of rationalist architecture. He exhibited in this gallery in 1932, together with Cavalli and Cagli. Bardi, reviewing the show in an article in “L’Ambrosiano” wrote that his painting, now having superseded its experimental phase, had become more essential, full-bodied, and mural. Furthermore, his style revealed a leaning towards the art of Piero della Francesca, one based on colour and light. In Milan at the beginning of 1933 Capogrossi and the other two artists of the partnership exhibited as a “group of new Roman painters” in the Galleria del Milione, the epicentre of Italian abstraction. In October they decided to write the Manifesto del Primordialismo Plastico, but as a result of theoretical and practical disagreements, they broke up the partnership. In Paris in December, however, he took part in the show “Exposition des Peintres Romains” at the Galerie Jacques Bonjean together with Cavalli, Cagli, and Sciavi, with a catalogue presentation by Waldemar George which referred to them as the “Roman School”, because in the case of Capogrossi the hallucinated fixity of the figures and their static attitude placed his paintings on the cusp of the physical and metaphysical, the area particularly dear to the Romans. In Rome in 1935 at the second Rome Quadriennale show, he exhibited a group of works including Ritratto del pittore Paladini (1933), Giocatore di ping-pong (1933; collection of the Rome National Gallery of Modern Art), and Piena sul Tevere (1934), all among the masterpieces of his tonal period. Critics now realised that he was one of the protagonists of the renewal of painting in Rome. In 1937 he took part in three international exhibitions: "The 1937 International Exhibition of Paintings", Pittsburgh (Ballo sul fiume won the second prize); “Anthology of Contemporary Italian Painting” at the Comet Gallery, New York; and an exhibition of Italian art at the Akademie der Kunste, Berlin. In 1939 he had a room to himself at the III Rome Quadriennale.
    In 1942 he won the IV Premio Bergamo with his painting Ballerina. In this period, with paintings that also revealed the influence of Cézanne, he began a transformation in which his colour was brightened by a range of reds, violets, and oranges, while his brushstrokes became livelier. His first solo show was at the Galleria San Marco: a wide-ranging show of works from 1927 to 1946. From 1947 onwards he frequently went to stay in Austria, near to Linz, where he drew heaps of firewood which suggested increasingly geometric forms to him. In 1948 at the XXIV Venice Biennale he presented Le due chitarre (1948, Rome National Gallery of Modern Art), the outcome of a new Neo-Cubist phase.
    In 1950 in Rome, to the consternation of the critics, he exhibited his new abstract works at the Galleria del Secolo. The catalogue presentation was by Cagli who spoke of a reduction to black and white of a vast range of tones a denunciation of the gravity of the times, and the use of a constant element determined by a group of marks aimed at expressing the archetypes of group consciousness. In 1964 Capogrossi stated that he was simply passing through a phase of advanced figuration, one in which natural forms were no longer imitated but assimilated. In the following months he exhibited at the Galleria del Milione, Milan, and at Renato Cardazzo’s Galleria del Cavallino in Venice. This dealer, together with his brother Carlo who owned the Galleria del Naviglio where Capogrossi often exhibited in this period, was among the first to back his new development. He was also invited to exhibit at the XXV Venice Biennale. In 1951, together with Ballocco, Alberto Burri, and Colla, he founded the Gruppo Origine while, in the following year, he became part of the Spatial Movement in Milan. In 1954 Michel Seuphor published the first monograph about his painting, which made no mention of his figurative phase. In 1955 he took part in “Documenta I” in Kassel, at the III São Paulo Biennale in Brazil, while Giulio Carlo Argan wrote the catalogue presentation for his solo show at the Galleria del Cavallino. Having by now become internationally famous, the artist held solo shows in Paris (1956, at the Rive Gauche), and then London (1957), New York (1958, Leo Castelli), and Brussels (1959).
    In 1962 at the XXXI Venice Biennale, he was given a room to himself and came joint first for the Biennale’s prize together with Ennio Morlotti. In 1967 Giulio Carlo Argan and Maurizio Fagiolo published the third monograph about his abstract work.
    In 1971 he was awarded the “Vent’anni di Biennale” prize, while the ministry for public education awarded him its gold medal for cultural merit. Only in 1974, after the artist had destroyed or reused various figurative canvases, did the National Gallery of Modern Art organise an anthological exhibition of his whole output.

    Francesca Romana Morelli in La pittura in Italia. Il Novecento (1900-1945), Milan, 1997.