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Fausto Pirandello

( Roma 1899 - 1975 )


    Fausto Pirandello

    Fausto Pirandello, born in Rome in 1899, is the son of Luigi Pirandello and Maria Antonietta Portolano. He spent his childhood between Rome and Agrigento and, having started classical studies, took an interest in painting at the same time. At the outbreak of war, he was called up to arms together with his brother Stefano, who was sent to the front and only returned in 1918, while Fausto remained in Italy for health reasons. At the end of the conflict, he devoted more attention to drawing and modelling and, at his father’s suggestion, attended the studio of sculptor Sigismondo Lipinski (1873-1940). In 1919, he attended lessons at the Scuola Libera del Nudo.

    From Carena’s school to the Parisian sojourn

    The beginning of the 1920s represented a decisive turning point in the young painter’s training: he was part of that large group of Roman artists who gathered around the figure of Felice Carena (1879-1966), who in 1922, together with Attilio Selva (1888-1970), decided to open an art school, far removed from the canonical academic methods. Among the first students were Fausto Pirandello and Emanuele Cavalli (1904-1981), followed by Giuseppe Capogrossi (1900-1972) in 1923.

    Carena’s school, a truly crucial stage for several young painters and sculptors, encouraged artists to listen to their own means and personal aspirations. In this early phase of Pirandello’s production, one can see the first drawings of Secessionist inspiration, but also some engravings with an expressionist tendency and close to the language of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). His germinal oil paintings, on the other hand, date back to 1923 and many are the result of his frequent sojourns in Anticoli Corrado, following the master Carena. Incursions to Anticoli became increasingly frequent, so much so that he opened a studio there in 1924 and met his future wife, the Anticoli model Pompilia d’Aprile. The paintings of this phase evoke a vaguely pastoral dimension, but in an already anguished and tormented reading, enriched by a colourful and drawing tension of great strength. His figures are already enigmatic and contorted, elongated in an expressive manner, elements that will be accentuated after the Parisian stage. His debut took place at the 3rd Rome Biennale in 1925, while the following year he participated in his first Venice Biennale with a Composition. In 1927, he made his first long stay in Paris, where he remained for three years, studying Cézanne, but also Matisse’s Expressionism and Picasso’s Cubism. Although his pictorial language, at this crucial stage, was already formed, his connection with the ‘Italiens de Paris’, the group of Italian artists who, defenders of De Chirico’s Metaphysics, wanted to propose a strong and valid alternative to André Breton’s Surrealism (1896-1966), was fundamental. Pirandello was certainly attracted to this magical and enthralling artistic climate and its developments can be seen in his works of the late 1920s, including those presented in his solo exhibition at the Galerie Vildrac in Paris.

    Tonalism and the Roman School

    At the end of his French sojourn, at the beginning of 1931, the artist travelled to Berlin to attend a performance by his father and, in the meantime, exhibited at the Bakum Gallery in Vienna. On his return to Rome, he held a one-man show at the Galleria di Roma and then exhibited at the 1932 Mostra del Sindacato Fascista del Lazio, where he presented eleven works that, for the first time, gave a clear idea of his poetics. Among the works exhibited, Interno di mattina (Interior in the Morning) is the one that best unites the enigmatic and surreal reality of the Parisian school with his first intense tonal research, where the drafting already appears opaque and nervous. Other works include Roofs and Mountains of Rome, Woman and Child, and August in Rome. At the Venice Biennale of the same year he exhibited Giornata di scirocco and Figura terzina. An ever-growing success followed, mainly due to his chromatic experimentation, in which year after year, the brushstroke became more material and almost anxious. Although Fausto Pirandello did not take part in the Manifesto of Plastic Primordialism by Emanuele Cavalli, Giuseppe Capogrossi and Roberto Melli (1885-1958), he nevertheless remained a key player in the climate of renewal of Roman art during the 1930s.

    His main contribution to the tonalism of the Roman School consisted in the dramatic and personal, extremely complex key that came to the fore at the Quadriennale of 1935. In his personal room he presented seventeen works including, The Shepherds, Seated Women, Gymnasium, Dido Abandoned, Bathers and The Bath. The great success of the room earned Pirandello the prize of 10,000 lire and gave him a prominent place in the Italian artistic debate of the time, as well as the admiration of those who would become his most faithful collectors, including Corrado Alvaro, Ercole Maselli and Telesio Interlandi.

    Nudes of ‘suspended, undefined drama’

    The achievement of maturity can be seen in the existential tragic nature of his expressionism, which became even more vivid after the death of his father in 1936. Figures and still lives taken from reality and the most common everyday life are mixed with a primordial archaism that also returns in the works exhibited in 1938 at the Galleria della Cometa in Rome and in his second solo exhibition at the Quadriennale in Rome in 1939. These include Drought, The TempestBathers and Sybil, which show a “singular expressive tension between earthly full-bodied intrusions and lunatic rarefactions […] of suspended and indefinite drama…”[1], a description that also fits in perfectly with Composition, a panel painting of 1939, exhibited in Milan on the occasion of the second Corrente exhibition, in which three male nudes are the protagonists. Figures of bathers that do not bring back any classicist memories, on the contrary so prevalent in the works of the return to order. They are in fact restless figures, expressing all of Pirandello’s anti-purism and, in the choice of earthy tones and an opaque, pained tonalism, they become emblematic of the material and expressionist rendering of the flesh. The vibrant and rough primitivism and the extremely physical vocation of the figures, however, also coincide with an alienating and suspended atmosphere, which can be seen in the glowing gazes of the two men seen from the front: “naked and convulsing – who seem to want to take off themselves […] the weight of a sin or remorse”[2]. Men on the beach who do not belong to an idyllic golden age, but to a land that seems inhospitable, sultry, where ‘the absorption, the astonishment, I would say, of physical life, the life of hopeless, poorly human bodies, is transfigured into surreal spectacle’[3]. This free, authentic, rhythmic and quivering composition is grafted onto the dialogue between volumes and space, in a key that is also used by Pirandello in the juxtaposition of objects, small fragments of everyday life that, like the nudes on the beach, reveal a silent and almost monochrome dimension, of a strongly existential nature.

    The interpretation of the nude is far removed from the celebratory and iconic one of the 20th century, where heroic athletes showed themselves in all their muscular power and energy. In Pirandello, as in other authors of the Roman School, the male nude loses its distinctly classicist infallibility and concentrates its emphasis on enigmatic atmospheres, spatial ambiguity and a continuous, dreamlike sense of twilight drama. A carnality that helped build Pirandello’s success in the 1940s and post-war years. Between realism and neo-Cubist experimentation, his painting was channelled into new research and definitions, which were summed up in the significant anthological exhibition held by the painter at Palazzo Barberini in 1951, with an introduction in the catalogue by Fortunato Bellonzi. The exhibitions of the 1950s and 1960s ranged from the Catherine Viviano Gallery in New York to the London exhibitions of the Estorick Collection, to the Galleria Gian Ferrari in Milan and the Nuova Pesa in Rome. In 1956, he received the gold medal as a well-deserving person of culture and art from the President of the Republic. In his last years, he led an increasingly secluded life, continuously dedicated to painting. He died in Rome in 1975.

    Elena Lago


    [1] E. Maselli, Mostre romane, in «Le Arti. Rassegna bimestrale dell’arte antica e moderna», XVIII, 1939, pp. 377-378.

    [2] F. Bellonzi, Pirandello, exhibition catalogue, (Roma, Palazzo Barberini), Roma Fondazione Premi Roma per le Arti, 1951, p. 7.

    [3] V. Guzzi, Mostra di Fausto Pirandello, exhibition catalogue (Roma, Sindacato Interprovinciale Fascista Belle Arti –Mostre d’Arte alle Terme, February 1941, p. 5.


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