Umberto Ruini was born in Modena in 1869. An artist known mainly for the cycle of frescoes in the vestibule of the Poletti Gallery, he was also an excellent illustrator and engraver, distinguished by a decidedly Art Nouveau style. The fine and meticulous line of some frontispieces or illustrations executed for the “Fanfulla della Domenica” and for “La scarpa d’Iride” reveal a great skill in handling woodcut printing, with which he succeeded perfectly in creating narratives often veiled in symbolic and allegorical notes.
Between engraving and monumental decoration in the sign of Art Nouveau
The stylistic virtuosity of his engraving technique was also reflected in his Art Nouveau decorations and oil paintings, to which Umberto Ruini devoted himself especially on the threshold of the new century. In 1898 he took part in the National Exhibition in Turin with Happy May, a light composition in which Divisionist chromaticism is combined with floral linearity and in which every naturalistic element reveals a decorative meaning.
Umberto Ruini’s life and career, about which we possess very little information, can be reconstructed mainly thanks to the works he executed between the areas of Modena and Genoa, where he worked at the beginning of the twentieth century. This is also testified by his participation in the Promotrice in Genoa in 1902, where he exhibited The guardian, one of his best-known paintings.
The decoration of the Poletti Gallery
As already mentioned, his main work is the cycle of frescoes in Palazzo Poletti in Modena, dating back to the early 20th century and dedicated to the architect Luigi Poletti, who before his death had left his legacy to the municipality to ensure an adequate education for young artists, through the famous Poletti Prize, which benefited many Modenese artists of the following generations.
Historical episodes from the architect’s life and allegories of the sciences and the arts are interwoven in an academic-style decoration which combines with Art Nouveau interventions to form a manifesto of the official wall decoration of the Umbertine age.
The panels of the monumental atrium of the Gallery are divided into historical scenes, in which a careful study of spatial and perspective rendering can be seen, in the pendant personifications of Rome and Modena with their distinctly Art Nouveau accents, and in the allegories of Art, Architecture, Science, Mathematics, Archaeology, Hydraulics, Mechanics, Geometry, Painting, Sculpture and Perspective in the upper register. He remained active until the 1930s in painting and engraving and many of his easel paintings, especially landscapes and allegorical or genre scenes, passed to the antiques market. He died in Modena in 1955.