Angiolo Vannetti was born in Livorno in 1881, but trained at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, where he was a pupil of Augusto Rivalta. Inheriting Rivalta’s marked verista vein, but also his tendency towards imaginative composition and fresh, expressive modelling, the young sculptor specialised in the production of animalier subjects from an early age.
Characterised by a spontaneous flicker and careful naturalistic rendering, the small bronze animals accompanied Angiolo Vannetti in the first phase of his career, which brought him his first critical successes at the beginning of the 20th century, particularly in Milan in 1913, where he exhibited Farewell of the Warrior.
A tireless traveller
After his debut abroad at the Paris Salon in 1914, the sculptor’s international career was inaugurated. In a continuous search for inspiration for his animalier subjects, he combined his artistic activity with an incessant need to travel: after key stops in European capitals, he moved on to Africa, America and finally Asia, which we might call his adopted continent.
“Are you going to the Cascine? No – I’m leaving tonight for Shanghai. So he replies, with quiet indifference, as if going to Asia were the same as taking the tram. Don’t worry, he leaves and returns. From Korea to Japan, from Havana to Benghazi, and back to his Florentine studio where he seems never to have moved. In this brief but curious recollection by his friend from Livorno, Plinio Nomellini, who presented it in the catalogue on the occasion of an exhibition at the Galleria Pesaro in 1932, one can perceive Angiolo Vannetti’s indefatigable traveller’s character.
Exotic production: from Central America to the Japanese imperial court
After going to Havana to paint the statue of President Zavas in 1925, he left for Shanghai, where he was commissioned to do some decorative friezes for the North China Daily News. When this work was finished, he was called to the Japanese Imperial Court in 1927 as official portrait painter. During these years, the sculptor took advantage of his assignments in foreign countries to draw inspiration from the everyday life of the places he visited.
He thus produced a series of sculptures, delicate exotic impressions that reflect and honour the truth of the places and people that inspired them. With an extraordinary capacity for synthesis combined with freshness of execution and attention to the details of local customs and traditions, Angiolo Vannetti gives life to small subjects that encapsulate their genius loci. Japanese priests who convey an intense spirituality, oriental women described in their most intimate and everyday moments, sunburnt peasants destroyed by fatigue.
This rich repertoire of exotic curiosities, for the most part inspired by Africa, Asia and Central America, led Angiolo Vannetti to definitive success with critics and the public, as can be seen in the Italian exhibitions in which he took part in the 1930s. In these exhibitions, animalier sculptures continued to appear, together with subjects inspired by the places he visited, in a sort of range of human types and attitudes that lead the spectator outside the classical western vision.
In Milan, in 1928, he exhibited Tiger Fight, Monkey with Duck, Macaque and Towards the Unknown with the Gruppo Labronico. At the Regional Exhibition of Tuscan Art in 1930 he presented Chinese Lord of Malacca, Chinese Lady of Malacca and The Mother.
At the Pesaro Gallery in 1932, some of his most significant Orientalist works appeared: The Melancholy Beauty, Annamite Seller, Maternity and The Bonzo – God’s Envoy. Small, concise and energetic sculptures that contain the essence of Angelo Vannetti’s closeness to the peoples he portrays, with respect and curiosity. In the 1930s, he made a stay in Tripolitania, bringing back some of his subjects, including African Nude and Gazelles.