Alberto Savinio, pseudonym of Andrea Francesco Alberto de Chirico, was born in Athens in 1891. Giorgio de Chirico’s younger brother, he spent his childhood in Greece until his father’s death in 1905. The artist initially embarked on a career as a composer and graduated at the age of twelve in piano. For this reason they moved to Munich, the perfect city to accommodate Alberto’s musical aspirations and Giorgio’s pictorial ones.
The road to music
Savinio in the German city took lessons in harmony and counterpoint from the famous composer Max Reger, then moved with his mother to Milan, hoping to find success through Casa Ricordi. At sixteen, he wrote the opera Carmela that interested Pietro Mascagni, but the project never came to fruition.
In 1910, he travelled to Paris and met a group of artists who gravitated around the figure of Guillaume Apollinaire, people such as Picasso, Max Jacob and Picabia. His first poetic text was published in Apollinaire’s magazine ‘Le soirées de Paris’, accompanied by music, costumes and sets for a total performance never realised entitled Les chants de la mi-mort. He would, however, perform the piano suite and other pieces one evening in 1914 at the magazine’s headquarters. It was during these years that he made the decision to use a pseudonym and became ‘Alberto Savinio’ to everyone.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the two brothers returned to Italy and enlisted in the army. They were sent stationed in Ferrara and spent the first years of the war there, also coming into contact with Carlo Carrà and De Pisis who were to spread Metaphysical Art in Italy.
In 1917, Alberto Savinio was sent to the eastern front in Salonika as an interpreter of Neo-Greek, he returned at the end of the war and together with his mother and brother settled in Rome. In 1918, his first Italian book entitled Hermaphrodito was printed. In 1920, the text La casa ispirata was published in the pages of ‘Convegno’.
He continued his literary activity, embracing the ideas of his brother and Mario Broglio for a return to order and craft, writing essays in magazines such as ‘Valori plastici’ and ‘La Ronda’.
In 1924, he met Bontempelli, Prezzolini, Stefano Landi and Luigi Pirandello who gave life to the Teatro d’Arte for which he wrote Captain Ulysses the following year, which for various reasons would not be staged until 1938.
Between Metaphysics and Surrealism
The artist’s debut as a painter took place in these years, despite Giorgio de Chirico’s stories that his brother had been drawing and interested in painting since his Milanese years. In 1926, Alberto Savinio sent some drawings to his brother in Paris who showed them to some gallery owners and dealers and they were quite successful.
The artist then moved to the Ville Lumière with his wife and began his fruitful activity as a painter. In 1927, his first exhibition in Paris at the Galerie Bernheim Jeune is attested. The influence of the formal language of his brother’s Metaphysics, but also of the Surrealist milieu is evident, although his painting travels on parallel tracks and cannot be inscribed in either artistic pursuit.
His paintings are peopled by half-man, half-animal figures, mutant and imaginary beings that bring him very close to the poetics of Max Ernst, but also recall an ancient tradition of metamorphosis and humanisation of animals found within the pages of tales from Greek mythology. His poetics thus derive from a very broad and multifaceted culture that refers to mythology and literature, but also to his memory. From a technical point of view, he developed a filamentous and nuanced brushstroke for the use of chiaroscuro.
In Italy he participated in the 1930 Venice Biennale with Ritorno del figliol prodigo, Il gioco degli angeli and Uomini nudi. In 1934 he was again at the Biennale with Ritratto di mia madre (Portrait of my Mother); and in 1935 he exhibited three paintings Autoritratto, Cernobbio, Autunno (Self-portrait) at the Quadriennale in Rome. He returned to the Quadriennale in both 1939 and 1943. In the 1939 edition, he participated with three drawings Figure, Still Life and Figure, while in the following edition with two tempera paintings Portrait of a Girl and Portrait of a Lady and the oil painting The Oriental.
He was invited to the Venice Biennale on other occasions: in 1936 he exhibited Adam and Eve, Tropical Landscape and Head of a Girl; in 1948 the tempera Vox clamantis in deserto; and in 1950 the three temperas L’attesa, La notte sul borgo and Fedeltà.
The ‘pen’ success and the last years
During his years of experimentation in painting, Alberto Savinio nevertheless continued his literary activity and in 1937 Tragedia dell’infanzia was published by Libero De Libero in Edizioni della Cometa in Rome. The following year Achille Innamorato was published and in 1929 Dico a te, Clio. His collaboration with newspapers and magazines such as ‘La Stampa’, ‘Colonna’, ‘Il Broletto’ and ‘Omnibus’ also continued.
In 1940, he was present at an exhibition at Galleria Il milione where he exhibited Neptune, Small Paradise, Portrait and Still Life with Embroidered Flowers.
During the war years, some of the artist’s best-known books were printed such as Nivasio Dolcemare’s Childhood, Narrate, Men, Your Story, Our Soul, Maupassant and the ‘Other’ and Sorte dell’Europa.
He died of a heart attack in 1952. Two years later, the Biennale paid homage to him with a major retrospective exhibition featuring some of his masterpieces such as Monument to Toys of 1928, Portrait of My Mother of 1930, Annunciation of 1932, Penelope of 1932, The Goddess in the Temple of 1944, Marine Monument to My Parents of 1950 and Bal de Tête of 1952.
Emanuela Di Vivona