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Olinto Ghilardi

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Olinto Ghilardi

( Livorno 1848 - 1930 )


    Olinto Ghilardi

    Olinto Ghilardi was a Leghorn painter born in 1848 and died in 1930. Very little is known about his life. He certainly worked in the theatre, as there is a trace of one of his set designs for Carmen staged in 1892 at Livorno’s Teatro Goldoni.
    However, Olinto Ghilardi is best known for his exotic-themed subjects, particularly Indian. In fact, he left for India together with Ermenegildo Bois (1863-1933), an Italian sculptor – also from Livorno – and moved to the Asian country for a few years.

    In the 19th century, the fascination for the Orient was very intense, and India had been chosen as a destination and source of inspiration by some European artists. It was probably for this reason that Olinto Ghilardi was driven to leave for the Orient or to try to make his fortune as a Western artist in a foreign land.

    The Relationship between Olinto Ghilardi and India

    Olinto Ghilardi worked at the Art College in Calcutta for several years and held the position of Vice Principal, thus playing a fundamental role in Indian art. Indeed, the Italian artist’s influence on contemporary Indian painting is clear. Ghilardi was also a mentor and teacher of Abanindranath Tagore, Indian painter and writer and one of the greatest exponents of modern Indian art. Tagore succeeded him as director of the Art College in 1905 when Ghilardi probably left to return to Italy.

    However, the influence between India and Olinto Ghilardi would be reciprocal, as India would be the subject of most of the Leghorn author’s known works, so much so that he became one of its major narrators. Portrait of Indian Elders (1900), Portrait of a Tibetan Girl from North-East India (1896), Muslim Revolt, are some of the titles of Olinto Ghilardi’s works.
    “Those who know the almost magical splendour of India, the beauty of the Indian monuments, the marvellous vegetation, and the richness of the dazzling colours of the costumes of even the humblest natives, cannot but feel a lively admiration for the art of this painter who knows how to reproduce on his canvases with such fidelity, and with true artistic feeling the picturesque view of the luxurious eastern country, not neglecting the most minute details either of nature, or of the architecture of the splendid temples and palaces”[1] . These are the words dedicated to him in the magazine Nuova Antologia that emphasise the Livorno painter’s expressive and emotional capacity and his love for India.

    The return to Italy and the decoration of the Caffè Bardi

    At the beginning of the 20th century, Olinto Ghilardi left India and in 1909 he was certainly in Leghorn as he took part in the decoration of Caffè Bardi, a historic café in Leghorn located on the corner of Piazza Cavour and Via Cairoli that was active from 1908 to 1921. The café quickly became a meeting place for many Livorno artists of the time, in the wake of Caffè Michelangelo in Florence or the many fin de siècle cafés in Paris. The Caffè Bardi also counted Amedeo Modigliani among its guests.
    In 1909, the owner, Ugo Bardi, involved a number of artists in the interior decoration, who created works displayed between the columns and on the walls. Taking part in the decoration were Mario Puccini, Corrado Michelozzi, Renato Natali, Benvenuto Benvenuti, Umberto Fioravanti, Giulio Ghelarducci and our own Olinto Ghilardi with Indian Scene, which added the exotic imagery that was so dear to him to the decorative cycle.


    [1] R. Bagot, Impero e libertà nelle colonie inglesi, “Nuova Antologia”, CLXXXV, 1916, p. 409.


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