Enrico Cavalli was born in Santa Maria Maggiore, in the Vigezzo Valley, in 1849. The son of the painter Carlo Giuseppe, he followed him to France in 1854 to broaden his training. After spending the first three years in Grenoble, he moved to Lyon to attend the Academy, where he studied under the Romantic painter Joseph Guichard.
Between the Vigezzo Valley and France
He also repeatedly spent time between Paris and Marseilles, a city that was fundamental to Enrico cavalli’s development, as he met Adolphe Monticelli, a valuable figure in his new approach to light and colour. Not much has come down to us of Enrico Cavalli’s French production, but his participation in the Paris Salon of 1881 has been ascertained.
At the beginning of the 1880s, father and son returned to Santa Maria Maggiore, as Carlo Giuseppe was appointed painting teacher at the local Rossetti Valentini School of Art. In 1884, Enrico exhibited his first work in Italy at the Turin Exhibition. He presented The Naturalist, but in the meantime he produced a large number of landscapes, characterised by chromatic looseness and intense luminosity, as can be seen in Novara, Impression of the Vigezzo Valley and some figures such as The Sleeping Maiden, which explicitly shows his debt to the French master Guichard, but also to the chromatic suggestions of the 16th century Veneto, which also blend with accents of the Scapigliatura.
His father’s assistant in the painting department, he also had among his pupils the future Divisionist painters Carlo Fornara and Giovanni Battista Ciolina, both natives of the Vigezzo Valley. After Carlo Giuseppe’s death in 1894, Enrico Cavalli hoped to get his place in the art school, but the appointment did not come.
Portraits and landscapes: the last years
He therefore returned to France, staying between Toulouse and Aix-en-Provence, the birthplace of Cézanne. From then on, he lived a tormented and precarious existence, working as a private painting teacher, but also as a portrait painter, landscape painter and restorer. Finally, in 1917, he obtained a teaching post at the Rossetti Valentini School, thanks to the intercession of some of his collectors, prominent figures in the administration of the small town of Santa Maria Maggiore. Unfortunately, he only worked there until 1919, when he died at the age of seventy.
He took part in very few national exhibitions. In fact, the artist worked mainly on private commissions and several of his works are now preserved in the Novara Gallery of Modern Art: The Reading, Madonna and Child, The Mountain and Afternoon, while others can still be seen at the Rossetti Valentini School. Although there is little evidence of his painting, Enrico Cavalli was a fundamental bridge between Impressionism and Divisionism, between Italian Naturalism and suggestions from beyond the Alps, which were widespread in the Vigezzo Valley, renamed the “Painters’ Valley”.