Ernesto Bertea was born into a wealthy family in Pinerolo in 1836. Although he graduated in law in Turin in 1857, at the same time he devoted himself passionately to painting. In fact, he made his debut at the Promotrice in the same year with the landscape The Ambush. It was during this period that he frequented the studio of the Turin landscape painter Ernesto Allason, but he also often stayed in Geneva to visit Gustave Castan’s studio.
Contact with the Barbizon School
The real turning point, however, came when he moved to Paris for two years, from 1858 to 1960. Here he came into contact with Constant Troyon, with whom he completed his training, acquiring the innovative stylistic features of the Barbizon School. He travelled extensively in Spain, France, the Balearic Islands and Scotland, looking for new motifs to capture en plein air.
In the meantime, he continued to take part in Italian exhibitions: in 1861, he sent to Turin A Walk on the Lake of Park in Scotland, Pasture in the Surroundings of Crémieux, The Burgoin Valley, Starting with the market (a scene near Paris). In 1864, he presented The Banks of the Meuse, A Barge, A Fisherman, The Bridge of Saint Joseph (Fréjùs), and The Grain Washer at Fréjùs.
Returning from these trips around Europe, he stayed in Tuscany in the mid-1960s and came into contact with the Macchiaioli. He naturally combined the lessons he had learned in France with those of the Macchia, completing his artistic maturity after meeting Alfredo D’Andrade and Vittorio Avondo in Geneva.
The Rivara School
At this point, he joined the Rivara School, whose members, following the model of the Barbizon School and in the wake of the Staggia School and the Macchiaioli in Tuscany, went to the Canavese to paint from life and in the open air. More than the other members such as Pittara or Avondo, he felt the influence of macchia painting, so his poetics were more straightforward and less lyrical than those of the other Piedmontese artists.
Paintings such as Under Chestnut Trees, The Bay of Pollenza, Beside the Parish, Pasture in Winter and Farmhouse in Biella date from the period of the Rivara School. In the 1870s, Ernesto Bertea often stayed in Liguria and thus combined Piedmontese views with those of the Ligurian coast.
In 1878 he exhibited Street of an old village, People – study from life, The Pusterla of the old Arenzano convent and Autumn in Turin. In 1880 he showed Sheep grazing, In Val d’Aosta, The first leaves and A pasture on the plain. He continued to paint throughout the 1880s and 90s, exhibiting landscapes such as Cascinale in Val Pellice, Siesta, In the villa Pallavicini at Pegli. At the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Rome in 1883 he sent November, The old harbour at the end of Lake Maggiore and Beppino’s heritage. In 1898 he took part in his last exhibition in Turin with Pesio over the Certosa and with At Gerbido Torinese in May.
A great collector of exotic objects and art, Bertea was also one of the first scholars of the Turinese Middle Ages, particularly that of Pinerolo. Indeed, it was from the environment of the Rivara School that he came up with the idea of restoring many medieval buildings and works of art in Piedmont. He died in Pinerolo in 1904.