21 September – 7 October 2023
Exhibition venue: Berardi Galleria d’Arte – Rome, Corso del Rinascimento, 9
Curated by Manuel Carrera
Through a selection of masterpieces from private collections, the exhibition, realised thanks to the collaboration of the Berardi (Rome), Enrico (Milan-Genoa) and Antichità Giglio (Milan) galleries, investigates the nodal aspects of the production of the Genoese painter Pietro Gaudenzi (Genoa 1880 – Anticoli Corrado 1955).
Trained between La Spezia and Genoa, learning from master Cesare Viazzi a particular skill in the rendering of the complexion, Gaudenzi moved to Rome at the age of 24 thanks to the ‘Duchessa di Galliera’ art boarding school. In the capital, he frequented the artists living at Villa Strohl-Fern and there he made the most important encounter of his life: that with Candida Toppi, a fascinating art model from Anticoli Corrado, then a favourite haunt of painters, sculptors and writers. Having obtained his first successes – in 1911 the City of Rome bought him the painting The Priors, in 1916 the National Gallery of Modern Art the Deposition – he attracted the attention of wealthy collectors in Lombardy, who invited him to move to Milan. With the untimely death of his partner, his figuration, halfway between the materialism of Antonio Mancini and the tonalism of 16th-century Venetian painting, arrives at a strongly spiritual vision that will characterise his entire production from then on.
Parallel to his production of austere maternities and refined still lifes, in Milan Gaudenzi produced a series of portraits that brought him great success in Milanese high society and numerous institutional recognitions. “Pietro Gaudenzi is adored in Milan”, wrote the critic Francesco Maria Zandrino: “the greatest Milanese, from the Podestà to the Cardinal Archbishops, from the princes of music to the kings of finance, compete to kidnap him, even though, as a good Ligurian, Gaudenzi is a bit of a bear, and yet at the same time magnificent and courteous”. The geometric rigour, the almost lenticular realism and the severity of the portraits painted in this period reveal certain tangencies with the coeval figuration of the painters of ‘Magic Realism’, while maintaining a firm link with tradition. With his definitive move to Anticoli Corrado in the early 1930s, in the majestic palazzo of the Counts Vetoli, the artist reinvigorated the sacred tone of his painting. Indicative of this are the works in which his second wife, Augusta Toppi, poses. The woman becomes a symbol of motherhood in a renewed sense, in line with the imagery promulgated by the fascist regime: the angel of the domestic hearth, the strong and hieratic matron, protector of her children. An example of this is the 1935 painting entitled Sogni di madre (Mother’s Dreams), in which her son Iacopo throws his arms around the woman’s neck.
The appreciation shown to him by the highest offices of state during the twenty-year Fascist period (in 1936 he won the ‘Premio Mussolini’, in 1939 he was appointed Accademico d’Italia, in 1940 the ‘Premio Cremona’, in 1942 the Duce commissioned a portrait of him), cost him the inevitable oblivion after the end of the Second World War.
A volume edited by Manuel Carrera, published to accompany the exhibition, will retrace the painter’s career, emphasising his life and connections with the artistic scene of his time, through previously unpublished documents and a rich iconographic apparatus.