Mario Bettinelli was born in Treviglio, near Bergamo, in 1880. He trained at the Moretto School of Art and Crafts in Brescia, attending it for only two years. He then decided to perfect his skills on his own, specialising in portraits, caricatures and figure paintings that were very popular with Lombard high society of the time. He made his debut at the Ateneo Bresciano exhibition in his early twenties with a series of studies and oil paintings, including Masculine head, which was noticed by the critics.
Between Impressionism and dense symbolic evocations
His first public success, however, came at the Milan Exhibition for the Simplon Tunnel in 1906, where he presented Portrait of My Sister, Portrait of My Father, Return and Autumn. During these years he experimented with different techniques: pastel, oil, watercolour and fresco, combining a basic realism with Symbolist accents that pervade works such as Creature del mare, exhibited together with a Self-portrait at the 1912 Biennale. Human Tragedy and Pause appeared at the Second Exhibition of the Federazione Artistica Lombarda in 1918, but Bettinelli’s most interesting exhibition was in 1923.
Great solo exhibitions at the Pesaro Gallery
The artist’s first solo exhibition was held at the Pesaro Gallery in 1923, which included a group of no less than one hundred and sixteen works. The caricature mask of Maestro Guarneri stands out for its perfect chiaroscuro rendering and for its imaginative and fanciful vein, but there are also portraits of numerous artists and men of letters, such as Rossini, Toscanini, Cerrière, Tolstoj, Zola, Duse and an ironic and acute Self-caricature. The Symbolist and Art Nouveau vein, but also a certain illustrative tendency, emerge instead in compositions such as The Model and the Faun, Fairy Tales, Bacchanal.
His second solo exhibition was held seven years later, in 1930, again at the Pesaro Gallery, where he exhibited seventy-nine works including Cottage, Head Study, Cellist, Bathers, Portrait of an Artist, Modern Eve, Nude and a series of female portraits that were rendered through a careful study of poses, psychological introspection and setting.
A chromatism that is sometimes bright, sometimes misty and characterised by a gradual and delicate nuance makes the portraits appealing to the bourgeoisie of the time. Then appear landscapes such as Ploughing in Baiardo, Last Lights on the Dolomites, Catapecchie di Ceriana, The Night, Canazei Cottages, Moena Cottages, all inspired by the mountain landscapes of Veneto and Trentino.
He continued to paint throughout the 1930s and 1940s, also producing a portrait of Donna Rachele Mussolini and her children. His works are mainly kept in private collections. He died in Milan in 1953.