At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Alberto Magnelli - abstract painter

Self-taught artist whose work became known as Concrete Art


Animated Tension (1953): An example of the abstract art of  the Italian painter Alberto Magnelli
Animated Tension (1953): An example of the abstract art of
the Italian painter Alberto Magnelli
The abstract painter Alberto Magnelli, who became a leading figure in the Concrete Art movement, was born on this day in 1888 in Florence.

Concrete Art is described as abstract art that is entirely free of any basis in observed reality and that has no symbolic meaning. It had strong geometric elements and clear lines and its exponents insisted the form should eschew impressionism and that a painting should have no other meaning than itself.

The movement took its name from the definition of concrete as an adjective rather than a noun, meaning ‘existing in a material or physical form’.

It became Magnelli’s focus after he moved to Paris in 1931. Until then, he had experimented in various genres.

Alberto Magnelli taught himself to paint while on holiday in rural Tuscany
Alberto Magnelli taught himself to paint
while on holiday in rural Tuscany
He was born into a comfortable background in Florence, his father coming from a wealthy family of textile merchants.  He never studied art formally but would spend hours in museums and churches looking at paintings and frescoes. He particularly admired the Renaissance artists Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello, and Piero della Francesca.

Magnelli’s first paintings were landscapes, which he began to produce while on holiday in the Tuscan countryside.  His work was good enough for him to submit to the Venice Biennale, as a result of which he made his first sale in 1909.

By 1915, he had moved towards painting in abstract style, having become part of a circle of artists in Florence in which the Futurist Gino Severini was a prominent member and having met Cubists such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger.

After the First World War, in which he did compulsory military service, he continued to paint entirely abstract works but was unhappy that the avant-garde movement in Italy appeared to be supportive of Fascism and returned to painting quiet Tuscan landscapes, and figure studies. These had echoes of the Metaphysical style of Italian artists Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà.

Some of Magnelli's works, such as The Readers (1931), had  echoes of the Metaphysical movement in Italian art
Some of Magnelli's works, such as The Readers (1931), had
 echoes of the Metaphysical movement in Italian art
Towards the end of the 1920s, suffering a crisis in confidence, he almost gave up painting but decided to return to Paris in the hope of making a fresh start. There he joined the Abstraction-Création group.

Following the invasion of France by the Nazis, during the Second World War, Magnelli and his future wife, Susi Gerson, went to live in Grasse with several other artists. Some of the group, including Gerson, were Jewish so they were forced to hide. Because conventional art materials were in short supply, Magnelli created textural geometric collages using materials such as corrugated cardboard, emery cloth, music paper, stitched wire, and metal plates.

He also made paintings on schoolchildren’s wood-framed slate boards. Many of these were geometric compositions constructed from flat areas of colour and inscribed white lines, while others were inscriptions of purely geometric lines. It was the beginning of Concrete Art. He again exhibited at the Venice Biennale and major galleries organised retrospectives of his work.

Following the Second World War, Magnelli returned to Paris which was to be his home for the rest of his life.  He died there in 1971.

The Giubbe Rosse has been serving customers in Florence's Piazza della Repubblica since 1896
The Giubbe Rosse has been serving customers in Florence's
Piazza della Repubblica since 1896
Travel tip:

Florentine artists of Magnelli’s era used to meet at the Caffè Giubbe Rosse in Piazza della Repubblica, which took its name from the red jackets - giubbe rosse - the waiters still wear to this day. When opened in 1896, it was called Fratelli Reininghaus after the German brothers who founded it. The writer and poet Alberto Viviani called the Giubbe Rosse a "fucina di sogni e di passioni - a forge of dreams and passions".

The central square in Sansepolcro, Tuscany
The central square in Sansepolcro, Tuscany
Travel tip:

Sansepolcro, which is the birthplace of Piero della Francesca,  is a town of 16,000 inhabitants situated about 110km (68 miles) east of Florence and 38km (24 miles) northeast of Arezzo. The historic centre is entirely surrounded with fortified walls, built in the early part of the 16th century. The centre of the town is the Piazza Torre di Berta, named after the 13th-century tower of the same name, off which can be found the impressive Palazzi Pichi and Giovagnoli and the 14th-century cathedral, dedicated to St John the Evangelist.

More reading:

Giorgio di Chirico, founder of the Scuola Metafisica 

Carlo Carrà and the Futurist movement

Giorgio Morandi - master of still life



Also on this day:

1586: The birth of 'lost' composer Claudio Saracini

1878: The birth of career burglar and cult figure Gino Meneghetti

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