At the end of the 1910s, Turin was caressed by a gentle secessionist breeze. An early sign of this were the protests of some artists, in 1919, fuelled by idealistic reasons related to commercial interests. The protests arose during the annual exhibition of the city’s Promotrice, and continued until 1921, when the dissidents planned an exhibition at the Mole Antonelliana. Seventy artists took part in it, including Mario Reviglione who exhibited some portraits together with a work painted fourteen years earlier, Autumn Eclogue, which the critics (P. Gobetti, E. Sobrero and M. Angeloni) pointed out as a loving revival of the Italian Quattrocento painters.
So the year Reviglione received the diploma as honorary member of the Accademia Albertina, and six years before Longhi published his famous essay on Piero della Francesca, Turin was already pervaded with classicism.
In the 1920s, a successful – with numerous participations in national exhibitions, purchases by the crown and institutions, and the entrepreneur Riccardo Gualino acquiring one of his works in 1920 – showed a style of painting devoid of easy concessions, pondered and reasoned in an attempt to crystallise an expression or a feeling. The artist then achieved a progressive simplification and a balanced formal synthesis. A cultured man, a seeker of sophisticated poeticism, with a passion for the Tuscan Primitives and Böcklin, he controlled his means of expression, obtaining painting solutions linked to the great idealistic currents of classicism.
In the spring of 1923, the fourth Quadriennale in Turin opened and Reviglione exhibited Eternity. The work represents an attempt to reach a timeless modernity. It was the moment in which the artist achieved a pictorial finesse with a certain aristocratic refinement, as if something elevated, something idealising, constantly inspired his brushstrokes.
Reviglione had a special bond with the Marangoni family and in particular with Cesare, brother of the famous art historian Guido, as well as director of the Civici Musei of Milan and creator of the Biennale d’Arte decorativa in Monza. Cesare’s collection included several works by Reviglione, two of which were outstanding: Self-portrait at two thousand meters and Eternity.
Eternity is pervaded by an intense, memorable force and a mysterious sense of time suspension. In the wake of Symbolism, Reviglione aims at becoming the privileged cantor of a world that is about to break out of the programmatic lines of the avant-gardes by gathering his personal artistic experience of the early years of the century. This becomes clear when we look at the lonely and dilapidated archaeological remains that stand on a spur of rock on the horizon of Eternity, recalling the classical ruins graphically simplified on the background of a bare landscape illustrated in the enigmatic xylographic ex libris dedicated to his friend, the poet Giuseppe Cerrina, around 1905.
In a metaphysical suspension, Eternity is articulated around the central void occupied by a cold, emerald and timeless Mediterranean on which the light of a gigantic moon is reflected – the artist’s favourite night star, which became the subject of several early works. In the upper part of the painting there is a solitary coastline and the columns of a temple, contrasting with the milky complexion of a female nude in the lower section. The figure lying on a sort of triclinar bed concealed by red drapery is not a simple human figure, as it is ideally connected to the archaeological remains by the column visible on the right of the painting, which vertically connects the borders of the canvas, while the beach on the left gives the landscape the appearance of an enchanted gulf.
Reviglione adopted the motif of the nude, a genre with its own risks that, together with portraits, was among the most frowned upon due to its traditional compromise with bourgeois painting. The figure presented here is the clear manifestation of an ideal, of a divinity chosen to govern beauty and grace through a virginal nudity. The veil on her head and the colourful halo are emblems of a divine presence, while the ornaments, earrings and bracelets, are a visual metaphor for the grace attributed by the labor, by the metalwork consecrated to the art of goldsmithing. Becoming the muse of beauty, this figure takes on the gestures of poets and orators: eyes fixed in front of her and a hand open in a sort of benedictory greeting that well suits the body lying gently. The figure is a representation of the aesthetic ideal of an artist who sees painting as an “unselfish mission of poetry, generosity and beauty” (“Pitture di Mario Reviglione”, in “Gazzetta del Popolo”, 1 June 1935). In other words, in Eternity Reviglione conveyed “poetic content, delivered with that elegance of drawing, that with purity of both internal and external appearance, that austere nobility of the language, that make our painter an extremely sensitive artist” (E. Ferrettini, 1923). Mario Revigliono – known by the surname he adopted in the early 20th century, Reviglione – was born in Turin on 31 March 1883. He studied up to the second year of classical high school at the Massimo d’Azeglio Institute in Turin and then enrolled at the Accademia Albertina in 1900. He attended preparatory courses for three years, including drawing classes at Giacomo Grosso and Paolo Gaidano’s school. These were years in which he learnt the fundamental value of drawing – which he never forgot – but in which he also developed an aversion to the academic culture of the 19th century. Determined to follow his own path, Reviglione tried to find a guide who could assist him in this transitional phase. He found one in Felice Carena, just four years older than him, and started to attend his studio. He came into contact with Turin’s cultural milieu and became friends with artists such as Domenico Buratti and Carlo Turina, who were close to Leonardo Bistolfi, an influential promoter of modernist tendencies. Although the degree of participation in this environment cannot be quantified, that was certainly the moment he came into contact with the idealistic ideas of European art and Symbolism. In 1903, at the age of 20, he made his debut at the exhibition of the Promotrice delle Belle Arti in Turin, a society where he would present his works for the rest of his life, and the following year at the Circolo degli Artisti, where he would exhibit until the 1930s. In 1906, he participated in the National Exhibition held in Milan on the occasion of the inauguration of the new Simplon Pass. He began a secluded human and professional life that led him to live in the safety of his family, with his elderly mother and his wife – the authentic muse and model of numerous works, including the portrait entitled Autumn Eclogue, which was accepted at the Venice Biennale in 1907. He also exhibited in the lagoon in 1909 and 1910 when he moved from the Piedmontese section to the interregional youth section. These two Biennales – unusually close in time, in order to avoid coinciding with the commemorative exhibitions of the 50th anniversary of national unity in Rome and Turin – hosted artists who had been influential on Reviglione such as Franz von Stuck, honoured in 1909 with a personal room in which he collected thirty-three paintings, or Gustav Klimt and Oskar Zwintscher, both present in 1910. These international openings and his participation in progressive circles of Turinese culture and art led him to create some masterpieces such as the famous Portrait of Amalia Guglieminetti. The work, painted in 1911, was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1912 and entered Italo Cremona’s collection in the early 1950s. Having become one of the pioneers of the rebirth of woodcut in Italy, in August of the same year Reviglione took part in the Mostra xilografica di Levanto organised by Ettore Cozzani – the director of “L’Eroica” – and the architect Franco Oliva, with a small nocturne and the subject of a lake surrounded by flourishing shores. In 1913, he participated in the Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Secessione in Rome where he brought Pastoral, an avowedly Symbolist work. The artist also participated in the following editions of the Secessione in Rome in 1914 and 1915. The year 1914 was one of the most active years in Reviglione’s exhibition career. He participated in the Venice Biennale with Yellow Jumper (Portrait of Miss Mimì Mosso), at the Circolo degli Artisti and at the Promotrice delle Belle Arti where the Galleria Civica di Arte Moderna in Turin bought the work Lunar Prelude-Memory of a Journey. In July, the coloured drawing My Wife was awarded a silver medal by the jury of the Mostra Internazionale del Bianco e Nero held in Florence. Again in 1914, at the Mostra Nazionale di Brera, he exhibited two landscapes, Prelude of Light and The End of a Day, and at the 16th Mostra degli Amici dell’Arte organised at the Mole Antonelliana, he presented an interpretation of San Giulio Island on Lake Orta. These were the years in which he developed his first poetic lake visions. In 1916, he was called to arms. In June 1919 he was invited, with Domenico Valinotti, Camillo Rho and Agostino Bosia, to represent Piedmontese art at the Esposizione Cispadana in Verona. In 1920 he returned to the Venice Biennale and the following year he took part in the Art Exhibition at the Mole Antonelliana, organised by artists who were against the direction of the Promotrice delle Belle Arti. With the large triptych Nocturne (asleep), Nocturne (clouds) and Nocturne (stars) presented at the 1922 Venice Biennale, he demonstrated his work ethic and the high example set by the old maestros. In 1923, he participated in the 1st Mostra Internazionale di Arte Decorativa Biennale in Monza.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Reviglione’s desire to lead a secluded life became more evident. In 1926 he participated in the Venice Biennale for the last time. In 1929, he set up a personal exhibition in Turin with one hundred and fifty works, which was followed in 1935 by another personal exhibition at the Codebò art gallery in Via Po 4, where the commission chaired by Vittorio Viale bought Portrait of a Theologian for the Museo Civico. During the 1930s, some young artists began to look at his work with admiration. In 1965, he exhibited Solitary Poet at the Promotrice, with which he was awarded the Society’s gold medal. Having been a widower for a few years, on Tuesday 14 June 1965 Mario Reviglione died in the San Salvario retirement home in Turin at the age of eighty-two.