Emilio Sobrero was born in Turin in 1890. While attending classical high school, he began to paint. Intent on cultivating his talent, he enrolled at the Accademia Albertina. This experience ended after just three years: the painter was not only intolerant of academic rules, but also had little affinity with traditional painting. In particular, he moved away from the lyrical landscape painting typical of 19th-century Piedmont to a painting of small, oblique touches, certainly influenced by his study of Cézanne.
The Twenties and Thirties: from Turin to Rome
Sobrero’s debut dates back to the Brera exhibition of 1916. He started exhibiting again after the war, at the Quadriennale in Turin in 1919. In the early 1920s, he was also involved in critical writing, working for the Gazzetta del Popolo. At the same time, his painting became poetic and rarefied: it was nourished by a return to a personal and luminous order, as can be seen in his Composition at the Esposizione di venti artisti italiani, held in 1924 at the Galleria Pesaro in Milan.
The figures, with their studied formal and chromatic rendering, express an intimate and lyrical character, which undoubtedly recalls the silent and delicate atmospheres of Felice Casorati, a fellow countryman of Sobrero and his essential point of reference.
The refined tonalism determines an unusual interpretation of the return to order, through calculated relationships between form, light and shadow. In 1927, Emilio Sobrero moved to Rome, his adopted city, where he remained until the last days of his life. The serene narrative of a timeless everyday life that animates neighbourhoods such as Trastevere can be found in the paintings of the 1930s, such as Woman Reading, which appeared at the 1928 Biennale.
Shapes, Shadows and Lights
In the works of these years we can also read the narration of Fascist Rome, but emptied of regime rhetoric and full of wide and silent spaces: Terme di Caracalla, Castel sant’Angelo and Piazza san Pietro were exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1930, while Campagna romana, Villa Massimo and Trastevere were shown at the I Quadriennale di Roma in 1931.
As the years went by, his brushstrokes became denser and fuller, still full of shadows and light that now no longer defined intimate domestic interiors but a taciturn and fascinating Rome. These were also the years in which Emilio Sobrero began to work as an interior decorator and theatrical set designer: he designed the Bar at the Monza Biennale in 1930, the year in which he presented the sets for William Tell.
Between 1931 and 1932 he lived in Paris, where he exhibited at the Galerie de la Jeune Europe. On his return to Rome, he continued to exhibit at trade unions, quadrennial and biennial exhibitions and worked on various decorations, including the decoration for the Milan Triennale in 1933, where he painted the fresco The bathers.
At the Quadriennale in Rome in 1943, he exhibited Balcony, in which two women facing each other, with solid contours and shapes, recall a genuine and poetic Rome. After the war, he continued to paint, but his presence at exhibitions became increasingly rare. In his last years, he was mainly active in the field of decoration and furnishing. He died in Rome in 1964.