He trained at the Albertina Academy of Turin following the courses of Giacomo Grosso, without being too enthusiastic about the academic environment. At the age of twenty he made a trip to Paris to get closer to international expressions and was especially impressed by François Millet.
The early twentieth century are the years in which Carena strongly approaches Symbolism: he is linked to Arturo Graf, Enrico Thovez and above all to Leonardo Bistolfi. Initially, his language is nourished by the works of Eugène Carrière and Arnold Böcklin, drawing powerful symbolic and lyrical suggestions.
Felice Carena’s debut dates back to 1899, when he exhibited Vecchio and L’erbivendola in Turin. Of a more clearly symbolist matrix are Mother and Two Children in the 1903 campaign and The 1904 Revolt. In 1906, the move to Rome brings him even closer to secessionist suggestions coming from northern Europe, but also to a seventeenth-century colorism. At the 1909 Biennale he exhibited Vittoria and I viandanti, a painting full of references to ancient art but also strongly linked to the present, to a suffering and obscure symbolism, very close to Böcklin’s language.
In the personal room dedicated to him at the 1912 Venice Biennale he exhibits twenty-one works including Ofelia, Nude Study, Sleeping Baby, The Dead, Pomegranates, Marzia, The Wanderer and Anemones. The symbolist influences are still fully respected in the exhibition of the Roman Secession of 1913, in which the Magi presented indicate a strong propensity towards a decorative style with broken lines and a marked and expressive two-dimensionality. It continues in the wake of symbolism throughout the years of the First World War, and then separates from it at the beginning of the 1920s.
It is the period in which Carena took refuge in the peaceful and fertile environment of Anticoli Corrado, slowly maturing that poetics of the Return to order that characterizes all of his mature production. From the harsh and two-dimensional line of the Secession, the artist gradually arrives at a classic vision dictated by the study of antiquity.
His is not a canonical reference to the values of primitivism, as happens for Carrà, Casorati, Severini or Martini, but it is a rediscovery of the plastic and chromatic value of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The “manifesto” of this purism dates back to the 1922 Biennale, when Carena presented Deposition, Il presepe, Il porcaro and above all La quiete, an important quote by Titian and Giorgione, not only in terms of color, but also in terms of composition.
In 1924 the artist moved to Florence, because he was appointed professor of painting at the Academy, remaining there until 1945. He had a strong artistic and personal bond with Ardengo Soffici and with Libero Andreotti, who was also interested in the rediscovery of antiquity, in sculptural area.
1926 is the year of his solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale. He exhibits fifty works that summarize his developments up to that moment: Hyacinths, The Angel Who Wakes Up the Shepherds, The Supper at Emmaus, Basket of Fruit, Anticoli Landscape, Bather, Nativity and Portrait of my wife. Other still lifes, portraits and landscapes are exhibited at the Roman Quadriennale of 1931, in which Carena expresses all his reinterpretation of the chromatic elements of the seventeenth century, obviously under the light of a modern and sincere line, inherited from Cézann’s research.
At the 1932 Biennale he sent Portrait outdoors, Flowers, Shells and lemon, Self-portrait with a friend. During the war, his studio in Fiesole was bombed and he was forced to take refuge in the convent of San Marco. After the war, after completing his academic post, he moved to Venice where he joined Oscar Kokoschka: his language returned to a hard expressionism, in which forms disintegrate and unite in tragic visions, even of a sacred matrix. He died in the lagoon city in 1966.