Domenico Colao was born in Vibo Valentia in 1881. His father, a magistrate, encouraged him to study law, which he did at the University of Naples. Animated by a strong inclination towards painting, the young man, immediately after his father’s death, abandoned the faculty of law to devote himself exclusively to his artistic vocation.
Training between Florence and Paris: between “macchia” painting and Post-Impressionism
In 1903, he moved to Florence, where he became a pupil of the now elderly Giovanni Fattori at the Accademia di Belle Arti. These first steps into the world of painting were followed by a fundamental trip to Paris from 1908 to 1911. These were crucial years that he shared with his friend Anselmo Bucci, with whom he lived in a small flat in Montmartre.
He frequented Leonardo Dudreville and Gino Severini, the driving forces of Italian painting in the Ville lumière, but compared to them, Domenico Colao was the interpreter of a painting with decidedly post-impressionist characteristics, where the reminiscences of Fattori’s manner were combined with luminous flashes and personal expressions, always very focused on the narration of a humble, everyday reality. This first pictorial phase was crowned by a personal exhibition in Fiuggi, where he exhibited a series of pastels in light tones, taken from Parisian tranche de vie.
Regionalism: the narration of work and humble everyday life in Calabria
After his experience at the front, Domenico Colao began to focus on depicting the living and working conditions of his home region, Calabria, where he stayed more and more often. The rhythmic and cyclical daily work of farmers and shepherds is the strength of his canvases, which are always constructed using rapid and synthetic colour.
In 1925, he held a solo exhibition at the Bottega di Poesia in Milan, presented in the catalogue by Enrico Somarè, while the following year he took part in the Novecento exhibition in Milan with Calabrian landscape, Wheat and Family. In the same year, he also made his debut at the Venice Biennale with Bread and Libecciata. His solo exhibition at the Sindacale del Lazio in 1929 featured twelve works, including Marianna, The siesta, Calabrian woman and Sleeping child.
In this phase, the Impressionist direction of the brushstroke was tempered in favour of a less elusive and more secure and volumetric plasticism, in keeping with a formal solidity that responded to the demands of the Novecento. This development is especially noticeable in the portraits: not only that of the impassive peasant girl Marianne, but also in the Portrait of a Woman, the Child at the Balcony and the Old Men of the 1930 Biennale.
The Tonalist Turning Point
The following year, Domenico Colao took part in the Quadriennale in Rome with some crucial canvases, such as The Humbles, Man on the Move and Georgica. In 1934, he exhibited a number of works at the Galleria Apollo in Rome, which were quoted in an article in the same year’s issue of Emporium: “What particularly distinguishes Colao’s painting is the profound and elegiac sense of nature […]. The melancholic solemnity of certain interpretations of landscape and certain particular and delicate intonations of the palette, are things of Colao, only of Colao’. These considerations are also valid for the more intimate pages of his work, dedicated to family scenes in delicately lit interiors, as in the Childish Conversation at the 1935 Quadriennale in Rome.
In Rome, in the 1930s, Domenico Colao’s painting, always respecting the same fidelity to the themes of the Italian family and work microcosm, without any Fascist-style rhetorical celebration, took on the delicate tonal sensations of a certain part of the Roman School and, not by chance, in the above-mentioned article in “Emporium”, a comparison with the tonal painter Gugliemo Janni was even ventured.
In 1936, he had a small one-man show with ten works at the Sindacale del Lazio, where equally moving and idyllic paintings appeared, such as Peasants, Seated Child and some landscapes. At the 1939 Quadriennale in Rome he Head of a Child, Wedding Procession and Boys on Holiday, and at the 1943 Quadriennale, Landscape, Self-Portrait and Maternity. He died that same year at the age of 62. Domenico Colao’s major collectors included the Gualino family, in particular Mirella, daughter-in-law of Riccardo Gualino, to whom he dedicated a painting exhibited at the 1940 Biennale.