Restelli, a sculptor who was mainly active in the Lombardy area, is best known for his applied art works and elegant animalier subjects. He was a highly skilled chiseller, and always gave his sculptures meticulously embossed details that embellished the bronze and silver surfaces with a distinct Art Deco touch.
Information on his biographical story is scarce: Restelli’s precocious passion for drawing and his studies at the Scuola Superiore d’Arte Applicata of the Castello Sforzesco from 1909, under the guidance of Eugenio Pellini, led him – a shy and hard-working man – to focus tirelessly on modelling in his Milanese studio in Via Vincenzo Monti. He could shift easily from scrupulous goldsmith work to animalier sculpture and refined furnishings, making his works soft and ductile, clearly derived from the sculptures of Scapigliatura. His production, which began in the 1920s and lasted until the 1960s, is made up of a very rich body of works with a superb formal appearance and a sometimes fairytale-like feeling that attracted a small and passionate group of collectors from the Milanese bourgeoisie (they knew about him thanks to some renowned jewellers and silversmiths from the city centre, including Aristide Chiappe). Although Restelli’s work – today secretly kept in private collections – has largely remained hidden, it started appearing in several exhibitions from 1925, when he was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition of Decorative Art. In that same year, with Old Head and Sighs, he participated in the exhibition of the Famiglia Artistica in Milan, of which he was a member.
At the 1930 Venice Biennale, he was awarded first prize at the Goldsmith’s Exhibition with some small sculptures including Victory, which hovers in space with modern dynamic curves. Although treated with the extreme precision of a chiseller, the silver ornaments, such as the small boxes or teapots with tiny monkeys or delicate two-dimensional dancers in place of handles, are equally magical and fluctuating. On this occasion he was noticed by Ugo Nebbia for his ability to “stand out, both in the embossing and in certain models of female nudes or animals, where he skilfully plays with the shadows of silver plates cut out and posed with a fine sense of form…” (Nebbia 1930, p. 234). In 1933, he exhibited one of his most significant works at the Sindacale lombarda, the embossed Portrait of Eugenio Pellini; he then returned there in 1936 with Pike, which was part of the vast repertoire dedicated to local and exotic fauna. The monkeys – particularly loved by the sculptor – are concisely portrayed with lively expression, multiple attitudes and unusual poses, studied during his visits to the zoological garden of Porta Venezia. In 1937 he exhibited a very curious Monkey in the Mirror in bronze, a symbol of the playful spirit that characterises many of his anthropomorphic animalier works. If this bronze example stands out for its synthetic handling of the planes, Restelli’s graceful and brilliant skills of composition emerge from the much earlier Monkey, dated 1923, in the very original choice to model the animal’s head as a sort of funerary mask. The expressive, vibrant and jagged face, gives the idea of something unfinished, something that trespasses into the atmosphere, as shown by the puff of almost fluid matter that expands on the left, providing a happy chromatic contrast with the clarity of the marble that acts as a backdrop.