Emilio Longoni was born in 1859 in Barlassina, Lombardy, into a family of very humble circumstances. When he was still a child he was sent to Milan to start work and found himself involved in the most varied of jobs, while at the same time showing a singular aptitude for drawing. Between 1876 and 1880 he was able to attend the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, a pupil of Giuseppe Bertini (1825-1898) and Raffaele Casnedi (1822-1892) and a fellow student of Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899) and Giovanni Sottocornola (1855-1917). In these crucial years for the birth of Italian Divisionism, Longoni made his debut at Brera in 1880, with a series of landscapes that were noticed by Vittore Grubicy de Dragon.
From the social question to the great Divisionist mountain paintings
After a stay in Naples, he returned to Milan full of a fresh and energetic humanitarian vision that led him to compose his first paintings related to the social question. Close to the ideals of Filippo Turati and perhaps also because of the experience he had lived, he produced works depicting sad episodes of poor and miserable childhood, including Chiusi fuori scuola, but also large canvases with a socialist and social background, including The strike speaker, exhibited at the first Brera Triennale in 1891. The first nucleus of Longoni’s Divisionism is thus expressed in the works of figures and humanitarian themes The fruit seller and Reflections of a hungry man. The Chick, exhibited in the same year at the Famiglia Artistica in Milan, depicts a small episode of intimate everyday life in a humble domestic interior, in which the child in the painting feeds a chick from a saucer on the kitchen table.
It was not until the mid-nineties that Emilio Longoni returned to landscape painting, with a production of airy, majestic views of the mountains and glaciers of Lombardy and Switzerland, which brought him exceptional success among private collectors, who were also interested in the Symbolist vein that permeates the views and figure works of the early 20th century. In 1903 he took part in his first Venice Biennale with The Sound of the Brook and returned in 1905 with the moving Sunshine.
Longoni’s Divisionism is brilliant and detailed, often leaving room for a broader, more hazy colour palette, in which the broad mountain perspectives are both extremely realistic and poetic. The mountain theme was particularly present at the 1906 Milan Exhibition, where he presented his famous Glacier (later shown at the 1907 Venice Biennale) together with Springtime of Life. During these years, he frequently stayed at the peaks of the Bernina, moments from which many studies and canvases sprang up, including Vespers and Rhododendrons, presented at the 1909 Venice Biennale, and Mestizia and Trasparenze alpine at the 1910 Biennale.
Throughout the 1920s, Emilio Longoni, who was increasingly distant from exhibitions, pursued his highly personal Divisionist research through works of small and large dimensions, including Lago di Garda, in which the study of colour is combined with that of light and the particular dusty transparencies that characterise all his later work. He died in Milan in 1932.