Antonio Donghi was born in 1897 in Rome. In 1908 he entered the Regio Istituto di Belle Arti di Roma and graduated in 1916. After his military service in France and at the end of the war, he decided to visit Florence and Venice to study the Old Masters. He made his debut in 1922 at the XC Esposizione della Società amatori e Cultori di Belle Arti di Roma with the painting Via del Lavatore, a work depicting the street where his studio house was located, near the Trevi fountain. In 1923, he participated in the 2nd Roman Biennale with an iconic Nude of a Woman. These were the years in which Donghi joined the group of “Valori Plastici”, a magazine founded by Mario Broglio, and shortly afterwards that of “Terza Saletta”. In 1924, his first personal exhibition was held in the Sala Stuard in Via Veneto. A few months later, the exhibition was recreated in an almost identical way at the Casa d’Arte Bragaglia, where he exhibited at the request of Anton Giulio Bragaglia himself, and where he received enormous critical acclaim that launched him into a successful career.
The fundamental traits of his painting took shape in these years: the wind of the avant-garde had already died down and the need for a thoughtful figurative stability emerged. From the very beginning Donghi’s painting was in fact permeated by a plastic stillness, a transparent chromatism and a rarefied atmosphere, perfectly in line with the ideas disseminated by “Valori Plastici”. In the 1920s, he participated in international art exhibitions: Zurich, Madrid, New York. Admired by Ugo Ojetti, who was to be one of his main collectors and a fundamental bridge with American galleries, Donghi became one of the major representatives of Magic Realism, connecting in certain respects to the pictorial modulations of the Neue Sachlickheit. It is no coincidence that in 1925 he exhibited with his German colleagues in Mannheim; his works seemed to be anti-rhetorical and “silent”, perfectly balanced in terms of colour and design, with a volumetric quality in which the masses were included in space, bearing in mind the values of 15th century painting.
In 1926, he took part in the Exhibition of Modern Italian Art in New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco, where among other paintings he exhibited Laundresses and The Fortuneteller. He also took part in the Venice Biennale with The Juggler and La Pollarola. The works Carnival (1924), Woman at the Window (1926) and Equestrian Circus (1927) date back to this period. They began to be characterised by a subtle irony and a smooth, clean, impeccable execution. In 1928 he participated in the Venice Biennale, with several works including La canzonettista and Cocottina. These were years of great popularity, in which his paintings were easily sold and his relations with foreign galleries — especially American ones — were extremely fruitful. In 1931, he participated in the First Quadriennale with a personal exhibition of twenty paintings, and held another one in 1935. The subjects of this period are infused with an abstract melancholy. They are taken from the world of entertainment and from behind the scenes: jugglers, singers, clowns, masks and musicians in their in-between world, caught between fiction and reality. In 1936, he obtained the professorship of figure drawing at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. From this year onwards, he dedicated to teaching and painting with equal commitment. In 1941, the Reale Accademia d’Italia honoured him for his painting activity. His first monograph, written by the Roman poet Leonardo Sinisgalli, was published in 1942 in the series “Arte Moderna Italiana”.
In the post-war period, he kept his distance from official art, protagonist of a strong clash between abstractionism and figuration. He distanced himself from his earlier production, concentrating mainly on Italian landscapes. Autostrada del Sole, which belongs to this theme and with which he competed for the Premio Nazionale di Paesaggio in 1961, is from 1961. He died in Rome in July 1963. The first retrospective exhibition dedicated to him was held the following November at the La Nuova Pesa gallery in Rome.