Carlo Carrà was born in Quargnento, Piedmont, in 1881. He trained in decoration, first at Valenza Po and then at the Brera Academy in Milan. In 1900, as a decorator, he went to Paris to work on some of the pavilions of the Universal Exhibition and was then called to London for some works.
The Divisionist beginnings
Back in Milan, he continued to attend the Academy of Fine Arts, following Cesare Tallone’s courses, but in the meantime he was attracted to the Divisionist milieu, making friends with Vittore Grubicy de Dragon, Aroldo Bonzagni and Gaetano Previati.
He was captured above all by the Symbolist accents of Divisionist poetry, so much so that the painting The Horsemen of the Apocalypse belongs to this period. Other landscapes created using the technique of colour decomposition appeared in his first solo exhibition at the Famiglia Artistica in Milan. Nocturnes with artificial lighting also likened him to Boccioni’s Divisionist style, which he met in the 1910s: paintings such as Milano station and Piazza del Duomo date from this phase.
Futurism: the internationalist and cubist matrix
In 1910 he signed the Manifesto della pittura futurista and then the Manifesto tecnico della pittura futurista, and in 1911 exhibited one of his most distinctly Futurist paintings, The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli. A set of tumultuous movements and forceful lines radiate from a central light, in a symbiosis of man and city.
In 1912 he took part in the Futurist exhibition in Paris at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery and on this occasion he was attracted by Cubist poetics: this was the reason why he moved away from Boccioni’s pure Futurism and instead approached the theses of Ardengo Soffici and the Florentine “Lacerba”. Carrà experimented with collage and directed his futurism towards a personal approach, imbued with cubist and international elements. He was interested in volumes, in the spatial and constructive construction typical of Cubism, but this soon drew him closer to the study of antiquity.
The return to antiquity: between Metafisica and “Valori Plastici”
In the post-war period, he returned to the rigour of ancient spatiality, to solid and present volumes, expressing this interest in the two writings Parlata su Giotto e Paolo Uccello costruttore, published in “La Voce” in Florence in 1916. Futurist dynamism was long gone: Carrà sought to obliterate all avant-garde progress and return to Italian primitivism, to the fourteenth century, to Giotto, Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesca.
This all took place within Metaphysical Art, with the meeting with De Chirico, Savinio and De Pisis in 1917 at the military hospital in Ferrara, where they all met during the First World War. Dating back to this phase are The Oval of Apparitions, Penelope, The Enchanted Room, Loneliness and The Metaphysical Muse, paintings focused on a strong Platonism, with classical and harmonic contents. But after the experience of metaphysics, Carrà turned completely to antiquity: the mysterious objects disappeared to make way for a reappraisal of primitive art, of perspective space, of solid and geometric forms.
He approached “Valori Plastici” and produced The Daughters of Loth and Pino on the sea, manifestos of his personal return to order, an inspiration for many other artists. In 1922 he took part in the Florentine Spring Exhibition and the Venice Biennale, where he exhibited The house of love and The dioscuri.
In 1926 he held a group show at the Galleria Pesaro together with De Chirico, in which he exhibited 57 works, including The Festival, The Engineer’s Lover, Sunset on the Mountains and a large series of etchings. The same year he painted the Giotto-like painting Waiting, presented at the Venice Biennale. During the following two years, he frequently stayed in Forte di Marmi, meditating above all on the notion of landscape, which he imbued with Cézannean traits. At the Venice Biennale in 1928 he exhibited the results of these developments, with works such as Sheds, Afternoon, Horses, October by the sea, Tuscan landscape and After sunset.
In 1931 he took part in the first Roman Quadrennial with more than thirty works, and he also took part in the 1935 and 1939 Quadrennials with works such as The Ox, red gate, Swimmers, In the Sculptor’s Study and Boy on Horseback. Here the figures become more monumental and powerful, very similar to those of Sironi’s mural paintings: indeed, in 1936 he did a mural intervention in the Palazzo della Triennale in Milan and in the Palazzo di Giustizia.
In the 1940s, he combined his work as a painter with that of a critic, publishing numerous texts including Il rinnovamento delle arti in Italia. He then obtained a chair in painting at the Brera Academy, and a series of awards such as a solo exhibition in London in 1960. He died in Milan in 1966.