Ottorino Bicchi was born in Leghorn in 1878 and is the brother of the more famous Silvio. Both were trained in Florence, pupils of an elderly Giovanni Fattori, and both can be described as travelling artists. Silvio first travelled between various European capitals and then to the United States, achieving rapid success with a painting style that combined Macchiaioli influences with a post-Impressionist style with a drawing style very similar to that of Tolouse-Lautrec. However, he then returned to Italy, participating in numerous national exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale.
Ottorino Bicchi started out from the same training as his brother and shared with him the similar choice of a verist language, sensitive to the interpretation of scenes taken from everyday life, from domestic intimacy, but also from the difficult urban reality of the last people. Through pastel, oil and engraving, over the years, he became a skilful, rapid and acute narrator of a truth without filters. Light is one of the focal points of his poetics: he attributes to it the mission of conferring volume and fullness to the figures, treated following a post-Macchiaioli tendency with a sure and modern graphic sign and with agile and bright colours.
Exotic painting: the move to Alexandria in Egypt
Compared to his brother, there is very little evidence of Ottorino Bicchi’s painting and exhibition activities in Italy. At the beginning of the 20th century, in fact, together with Arturo Zanieri (who, like him, had Florentine and Macchiaioli training), he took the road to North Africa, settling in Egypt until the end of his life.
In fact, it was in Alexandria that Bicchi definitively built his painting career, dedicating himself to the representation of an extremely loose and luminous Orientalism. While in his Italian production he had devoted himself to depicting Wayfarers, sailors with Heave the sail and rural situations reminiscent of Fattori, such as Towards work (oxen), in North Africa he devoted himself to a dense, engaging and relaxed narration of local customs and traditions, through vivid and luminous tranche de vie, but also intense portraits.
In the 1920s he was involved in a project to open an Academy of Fine Arts in Alexandria, Egypt, which was finally inaugurated in 1929. From then on, Ottorino Bicchi’s career was inextricably linked to the institute he created, which he directed from the 1930s until his death, with the only interruption being the Second World War, when he returned to Italy for a while. Many Egyptian artists trained at the Academy he founded, which undoubtedly changed the fortunes of local artistic production. Active until his last days, he died in Alexandria in 1949, at the age of 71.