Galleria Bottegantica, Milan
In recent decades, several exhibitions have explored the figure and artistic work of Umberto Boccioni. Few of them, however, have examined with scientific rigour the youthful and formative phase of the Calabrian artist, in which the study of the past is linked to an irrepressible desire to know the present and experiment with the future. The exhibition Il giovane Boccioni (The Young Boccioni), with which Galleria Bottegantica inaugurates the 2021 exhibition season, is dedicated to this richly evocative period.
Curated by art historian Virginia Baradel, one of the most accredited scholars of Boccioni's pre-futurist work, the exhibition offers a careful selection of works executed by Boccioni between 1901 and 1909. These were the years in which the painter, then in his twenties, strengthened his artistic vocation through periods of study in Rome, Padua, Venice and Milan, interspersed with an important stay in Paris in 1906 and his subsequent trip to Russia. The influence of the various European figurative currents as well as his interest in the classical and Renaissance traditions repeatedly emerged in the works of the period and found, above all in his graphic production, an ideal laboratory for experimental analysis, invention and stylistic verification; a research which Boccioni conducted in parallel with his painting.
The exhibition devotes particular attention to his work on paper through a selection of drawings that cover the years of the young Boccioni's apprenticeship. A first nucleus of works – with a strong scholastic imprint – date back to when he was a pupil of Giacomo Balla and attended the schools of pictorial drawing and life drawing in Rome. These works are accompanied by another – greater in number and diversification – body of works that date back to the years immediately afterwards. Here we see the lines acquire confidence in rendering precise architectural visions, curious portraits – some of which verge on caricature – and human figures of extreme formal synthesis. The museum copies also belong to this apprenticeship period.
Another aspect the exhibition focuses on is the commercial tempera paintings that Boccioni painted in these same years, mostly for economic reasons. The eagerness to learn and refine his artistic skills also characterised the artist's Venetian period, during which he experimented engraving under the guidance of the painter Alessandro Zezzos. The results of his time in Venice are well documented in the Milan exhibition.
The exhibition concludes – as did the artist's training – with Boccioni's move to Milan in September 1907. Boccioni's interest in the works of Giovanni Segantini, Carlo Fornara and Gaetano Previati – which he admired a few months earlier at the Venice Biennale – led him to search for a style capable of reconciling positivist modernity with ideality in the field of illustration and posters. His contemporary pictorial production found expression in small views of Lombard landscapes, which nonetheless show an overcoming of the Impressionist texture still present in the paintings of the Venetian period. In his portraits of this period, the brush becomes feverish in its urgency to restore on canvas the singularity of a face, an expression, or a character.
In the exhibition, these themes are well represented by fine works such as La madre malata (The sick mother) of 1908 and La madre (The mother) from the Ricci Oddi's collection. Other artworks document the Symbolist interlude of 1908-1910, whose most harrowing and esoteric outcome is seen in a work entitled Il lutto (Mourning). Equally interesting are the sketches for the poster of the Painting and Sculpture Exhibition promoted by the Famiglia Artistica in Brunate (May-June 1909): a perfect synthesis of Boccioni's various stylistic traits, from Divisionism to the broad, synthetic brushstrokes of the Post-Impressionist matrix and echoes of Modernism.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Bottegantica Edizioni, with contributions by Virginia Baradel, Ester Coen and Niccolò D'Agati, and a complete list of the drawings and graphic works edited by Niccolò D'Agati.
IL GIOVANE BOCCIONI
Milan, Galleria Bottegantica
Milan, Via Manzoni 45
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BOVINDO, Edoardo Caprino