Girolamo Cairati was born in Trieste in 1860, but completed his studies in Milan, his father’s city, where he graduated in engineering at the Politecnico. Versed in painting, after graduating he began to frequent the Milanese studio of the scapigliato painter Luigi Conconi. Initially, he specialised in the figure and the master introduced him to the monotyped etching technique, which was also one of his first expressive mediums.
In the 1980s, he executed and exhibited figure paintings that immediately had the merit of showing what has been defined by critics as a “cultured and meditative spirit, always searching for the secret soul of things”. The seamstress sent to the 1889 Turin Exhibition, together with Meadow in flowers and Head of a woman of 1890 follow precisely the line of a symbolic painting, certainly coming from Conconi’s mysterious, misty and enigmatic taste.
An evocative landscape painting with a Secessionist matrix
Gradually, he abandoned the figure to devote himself exclusively to landscape. The works he exhibited at the 1893 National Exhibition in Rome, At Vesper and Peace, immediately reveal the elegiac and intimate value he gave to landscape, seen as a representation of his inner self.
In 1894, Girolamo Cairati moved to Munich, where he was immediately permeated by the Symbolist and disturbing tendencies of the Secession. His landscapes appear more and more like a reference to Böcklin’s enigmatic and mythical concordances, but at the same time they also present a pictorial touch of an almost graphic nature, in which the dry and dark sign binds him inextricably to the Secessionist milieu.
Between twilight and night
From 1897 to 1932, he participated almost without interruption in the Venice Biennials. His debut at the international exhibition was marked by the painting Telling and was followed by five other works in 1899: the suggestive and caliginous Night on the Lake, September at Scheischeim, Village Study, Sunset and the delicate and mysterious figure of the Bather.
Strongly attracted by the poetry of the places he portrayed, he seems to transfigure to perfection the subtle presence of a genius loci that transpires from the waters of small lakes and ponds, which diffuse steam on dark nights, or from the tall trees whose trunks are crossed by diaphanous ghostly presences, as in Night Hours, exhibited at the 1901 Biennale, together with Night on Lake Garda and Evening. In 1903, he exhibited two of his best-known and most profound canvases, Sunset in the Pine Forest and Black Knight, a work he also presented in Düsseldorf the following year.
Italy’s Reclusive Corners
A fundamental stage in Girolamo Cairati’s career was his 1909 solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Among the thirty works exhibited, all characterised by a misty brushstroke and dark tonalism, are Evening in the Romagna countryside, November in Val di Sogno, Evening on Lake Albano, Autumn on Lake Garda, Solitary Cypress, Umbrian-Assisi Sunset and Towards evening in Villa Falconieri.
It is a journey into the provincial Italy of the evening and night hours, in fact, the room is entitled Recondite corners of Italy. It is the acute, sensitive and idyllic vision of an Italian who lives outside his country and narrates it without the usual celebrations of the most central and well-known places, but through a look at the fascinating and twilight beauty of the suburbs. The room’s upper doors, with the She-wolf of Rome and the Lion of Venice, among others, were painted by Ida Amman Cairati, his wife.
Most of the works executed between the 1910s and 1920s are fixed pastels, using a technique developed by the artist himself. Medieval and Renaissance architecture is combined with silent, elegiac landscapes, which he continued to exhibit at the Biennales. The last one he took part in was in 1932, where he exhibited Evening falls on the Clitunno and The Castle of Mantova.