Alfredo Protti was born in 1882 in Bologna into a family of artisans and from 1900 he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, where he followed Domenico Ferri’s courses, making friends with other painters including Giovanni Secchi, Ugo Valeri and Athos Cesarini. Together with the latter two artists, Alfredo Protti gave life to a fringe of the Bolognese Scapigliatura movement that opposed academic traditionalism.
His exhibition debut took place in 1905 at the Società Francesco Francia when he participated in the annual exhibition with Ritratto di fattorino. He continued to exhibit in the next five editions and in 1907 participated with Malizia, Riposo and L’uomo con il bastone.
1909 corresponds with his debut at the Venice Biennale with the work Fioretta. This was the beginning of a very fruitful period for the artist who exhibited two works Piumino and Interno at the following Biennale, and in 1911 he participated in the International Exhibition held in Rome for the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Italy with Modella and Il palloncino.
The Sensual Secessionism of Alfredo Protti
Fast, undefined brushstrokes and strong, bold colour contrasts inscribe Alfredo Protti’s painting in the Secessionist sphere. The choice of subjects also follows that taste, sensual and provocative women are the painter’s favourite protagonists: femmes fatales completely at ease with their bodies and their sensuality.
Alfredo Protti participated in all the editions of the Roman Secessions: in 1913 he was a guest with six works including Lo specchio, Il primo strappo, Fiorina and Riflesso. The following year he presented five works including Fiorina seduta (Seated Flower), Riflesso giallo (Yellow Reflection) and Nudo (Nude). Abandonment and Maiden were exhibited instead at the Third Secession, in 1915; and he concluded his participation at the Fourth Secession, the following year, with Silk Flowers and Green Reflection.
Alfredo Protti was also quite successful abroad, exhibiting in Buenos Aires, Paris, San Francisco and Pittsburgh.
The post-war period and exhibitions in the 1920s
In the meantime, the First World War broke out and by its end Alfredo Protti’s secessionist spirit had partly died out or at least softened, his brushstrokes became more evanescent and vaporous and his chromatic expressionism less pronounced.
In 1920 he took part in the first post-war Biennale with three works Gisella, Fiori di seta and Allo specchio; then in 1922 a solo exhibition was dedicated to him at the Spring Florentine Exhibition with eleven works including La toilette, Lo strappo, Effetto di sera, Gatto che dorme, Riflesso, La prima posa, Fanciulla che si veste and La limonata.
He participated in three other editions of the Venice Biennale: in 1922 with two works La toilette and Vanità; in 1924 with Lo strappo and Prima del ballo; and in 1926 with a work entitled Sogni (Dreams).
Alfredo Protti also taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ravenna, obtaining the chair of painting, then in 1931 he taught at the Academy in Bologna, but in 1940 he preferred a smaller and more reserved dimension by teaching Figure at the Art School.
Alfredo Protti’s departure from the art world
With the spread of the Return to Order, but above all the fascist influence, Alfredo Protti increasingly distanced himself from the art world, tending to isolate himself in quiet solitude. The last collective he took part in was the Fascist Trade Union in Florence in 1933 with Sonnellino and Intimità.
Alfredo Protti then retired to his home, to his private domestic dimension, continuing to paint portraits, intimate interiors, landscapes, but above all his beloved cats. Fascism, due to its censorious and puritanical nature, could not exalt the eroticism and visceral sensuality of Alfredo Protti’s women, so it tended to obscure and forget his name. After the Second World War, interest in the painter seemed to be rekindled, but it was not until 1950, a year after his death in Bologna in 1949, that a major retrospective was organised at the Museo Civico in Bologna.
The charm of the colours and the intense sensuality of Alfredo Protti’s women
“Alfredo Protti is perhaps the most personal of the Bolognese painters although mannerism is sometimes noticeable in him. But he is a vigorous colourist and certain of his lights and certain softnesses of his clothes and even more so of his female flesh are undoubtedly enchanting. He is an exquisite lover and connoisseur of women, and loves to translate the lascivious and tranquil perfidy onto canvas'.
1] His painting style and choice of subjects may bring to mind the French 19th century, but the women depicted are not ethereal, idealised women, they are concrete, sensual women, aware of their own being, and this brings us back to the climate of the Secession. Many of the works executed by the painter caused quite a scandal due to the lascivious poses of the subjects. The women depicted are caught in the everyday life of their rooms and reflect the spirit of a society that aspired to become increasingly liberal and modern. Alfredo Protti looks to Renoir, Degas, Klimt, Whistler and Sargent, blending their influences and expanding his artistic research. The mirror is another element that frequently appears in his paintings, and it is precisely mirrors that very frequently reveal the female identity of the subjects depicted, as for example in the work Maschietta exhibited at the solo exhibition of painters Giuseppe Calvi, Sandro Pinetti and Alfredo Protti in 1929. Alfredo Protti greatly favoured the use of whites to light up his paintings and the use of reds to give warmth, the subject was almost always a pretext for creating symphonies of light and colour.
Emanuela Di Vivona
G. Lipparini, Catalogo Esposizione primaverile, Florence, 1922, in Mostra personali dei pittori Giuseppe Calvi, Sandro Pinetti, Alfredo Protti, Exhibition catalogue 9-24 March 1929, Galleria Micheli, Milan.