Mario Ridola was born in Naples in 1890 and trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples under Stanislao Lista, Vincenzo Volpe and Michele Cammarano who, in particular, took him under his wing.
After graduating in 1912, he became the interpreter of an energetic verism devoid of decorative effects, concentrated on popular everyday life and on the narration of intimate and luminous domestic scenes. Napoletana appeared at the 1912 Naples Exhibition and Towards Camaldoli, Portrait of my sister and Under the sun at the following year’s exhibition.
After these early experiences, Mario Ridola decided to complete his training at the Academy in Paris and then at the Academy in Antwerp.
The painter of the Libyan colony
The real success of the Neapolitan painter only took off after the First World War. An attentive traveller and eager to get to know and narrate the cultures and traditions of the Mediterranean, after the conflict he left for Libya, where he stayed for about ten years.
The colours and sensations of the essence of North African tradition, conveyed through the representation of daily life and landscapes pervaded by desert light, emerge from works such as Panorama of Cyrene or Arab of Tubruq, exhibited at the Venice Biennal in 1924.
His canvases as a colonial and orientalist painter are filled with Arab women in typical costume, engaged in various occupations, completely enveloped in the whirlwind of colours, sounds and images from cities like Cyrene.
The women and costumes of Cyrene
Mario Ridola, on the occasion of his solo exhibition in the hall of the Cyrenaic Parliament in 1923, was nicknamed ‘the painter of the mabrukes’. Among his many works devoted to female figures are Tarbuka Player, The Maiden of Cyrene and Dancer of Cyrene, Arab Woman, painted during 1924.
His painting is devoid of celebratory intentions and decidedly aimed at showing colonial life in its truest, everyday aspect. It is a reportage rather than an imaginary vision of a dreamed Africa, as was the case in 19th-century Orientalist painting. It is within this stylistic and narrative framework that some of Ridola’s symbolic works are inserted, including Market in Nord Africa, Derna. The Almond Tree and Derna. The Mosque of the Forty-Two Domes.
His warm images full of folkloric details and Libyan tranche de vie were presented at the Colonial Exhibitions of the 1930s and today, many of them are kept at the Museum of Civilisations, such as the large painting Libyan Interior with Figures.
The Years in Albania
At the beginning of the 1930s, Mario Ridola moved to Albania, where he opened the country’s first Drawing School. In these years too, adopting his usual brightly coloured and luminous realism, rich in details taken from local tradition, the painter devoted himself to a lively and impeccable interpretation of Balkan life.
Most of the canvases and impressions he painted in Albania are conserved at the Royal Palace in Tirana. In 1938, on his return to Italy, he held a personal exhibition in Rome, where all his Neapolitan and colonial production was concentrated. At the end of his epic career as a travelling artist, he retired in his last years and died in Catanzaro in 1973 at the age of 83.