Antonio Barrera was born in Rome in 1889. A pupil of Pietro Gaudenzi, he immediately adhered to the ways of the return to order, making himself the interpreter of a painting in which the figures are pervaded by a solid plasticism and in which the colour, applied in a balanced and harmonious manner, contributes to giving the compositional layout a sense of architectural solemnity.
A balanced painting in the sign of a return to order
At the age of 31 he made his debut at the Exhibition of the Amateurs and Connoisseurs of Fine Arts in Rome in 1920 with some seascapes, including Porto di Civitavecchia, while in 1922 he was at the Venice Biennale with The Poor and Portrait. In these early works by Antonio Barrera we can see a definite closeness to the instances of the Novecento, especially in the choice of modern themes declined in a classicism that refers fully to the Italian tradition of the 15th century.
This can be seen even more in his desire to re-propose certain sacred and profane subjects dear to Renaissance painting, from Susanna at the 1924 Biennale to Conversation at the Biennale four years later. The Roman painter adopted a measured realism in which each figure fits perfectly into the pondered and ordered space, which often exudes an evocative, almost magical silence.
These characteristics are well expressed in the works presented at the I Sindacale Fascista del Lazio in 1929: The deckhand on holiday, The rotunda, In the farm, The village square and The harbour. A delicate and calibrated use of chiaroscuro makes some female portraits elegant and mysterious, such as the one presented at the following year’s Sindacale, together with Mother, Child and The Guard Corps.
Although there is very little biographical information on Antonio Barrera, the development of his poetics can be deduced from the numerous national and international exhibitions in which he regularly participated at least until the Second World War. In 1929 he was awarded an honorary prize at the Barcelona Exhibition and several of his works are held in Italian museum collections.
Between Local Narrative and Colonial Painting
The following year he exhibited at the Venice Biennale with the monumental painting Street of Rome and The Tower of Ponte Milvio, while in 1931 he participated in the I Quadriennale di Roma with seven works: Luigi Chiarelli, The Sea Wolves’ Roundup, The Tent of the Calafato, On the Beach, The Red Boat, Serenity.
In 1932, Antonio Barrera appeared with Enrico Paulucci as artistic curator of a section of the Fascist Revolution Exhibition and, in the same year, he exhibited some delicate views of Paris at the Biennale, such as On the Seine and Old Paris, which testify to his stay in the French city.
At this point, his chromaticism is filled with an intense luminosity and the drawing slowly gives way to the interplay of compact sections of vivid colour, as can be seen in the 1936 painting Rome from the Pincio. The figures retain their poetic solidity, as can be seen in one of his most famous paintings, The Sailor and the Circeid, shown at the 1939 Quadriennale in Rome and now in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Rome. In the 1930s he made a trip to Libya, as evidenced by his presence at the 1st Exhibition of Italian Overseas Lands in Naples in 1940. In the Libyan pavilion he produced a mural painting in which the exotic and colonial representation is combined with his usual formal solidity, as in the Blessing of the Boat, a work kept at the Museum of Civilisations in Rome, and in the Oven of Suk el Ginna, which appeared at the 1931 Colonial Art Exhibition.