Ugo Bernasconi was born in Buenos Aires in 1874, but moved with his family to Olgiate Comasco as a child. After his classical studies in Milan, he attended engineering courses at the University of Pavia, dropping out after only a year. What really attracted him was painting, which he began to practice as a self-taught artist in the 1990s, during which time he travelled extensively between Rome, Turkey, Greece, Palestine and Argentina.
The influence of Carrière and Lombard Scapigliatura: a misty and melancholic painting
He then stopped in Paris in 1899 and stayed there for six years, as it was in the French city that Bernasconi’s real training took place. He attended the Académie Julien and above all the studio of Eugène Carrière, from whom he inherited many elements such as the use of brown tones, the dusty and evanescent rendering of the brushstroke, the predilection for melancholic and tormented portraits of Symbolist inspiration.
A constant feeling of misty haziness surrounds Bernasconi’s figures, which are almost always painted in monochrome, a technique that gives the paintings a sense of mystery and drama. His poetics are therefore not only derived from Cerrière, but also from examples closer to the reality of Lombardy: first of all the Scapigliatura, and then the Divisionism of Morbelli and Grubicy, but not without the colourism of Piccio.
The intimate and domestic dimension
Perhaps also thanks to these examples, he moved on from an almost monochrome phase to one characterised by a more varied palette, as can be seen in the paintings of the 1920s. His first solo exhibition at the Galleria Pesaro in Milan dates back to 1922, where he exhibited about ninety works. Among them are Convalescent, Feverish, Girl writing, Flowering tree, Casino at the Pincio, Lioncello, Young girl at lace-making, Embroiderer, Sisters, Maternal group and The old woman.
An intimate and meditative dimension permeates these paintings that bring him increasing success, especially when, in the wake of the return to order currents, his figures become more volumetric, without ever officially adhering to the Novecento.
However, he took part in the exhibitions of Sarfatti’s group in 1926 and 1929 and in their international shows. He took part in the 1926 Biennale with the two landscapes City and Snow, and sent Feverish Child and Lake in the Morning to the 1928 Biennale. He sent Laughing Portrait and The Fields to the first Quadriennale in Rome, and in 1939 he took part in the first exhibition of the “Corrente” group and in the Bergamo Award.
During these years, he lived in Cantù, in Brianza, the main place of inspiration for his intense and melancholic canvases. Readers in Pink, White Cyclamen, Little Girl with Primroses, Embroiderer in Blue, Seated Girl and Face of an Adolescent appeared at the Quadriennale in 1939, together with thirty-three other works exhibited in a room dedicated to Bernasconi. At the Bergamo Award he presented Castel Baradello and Sunrise in Brianza.
He continued to paint until the 1950s, leaving in his works a constant sense of deep introspection, which also corresponds to the painter’s literary and critical activity. The last edition of a critical text on Arturo Tosi dates back to 1944. He died in Cantù in 1960.