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Oscar
Ghiglia

Italia 
1876−1945
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Biography and information

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Oscar Ghiglia, was born in Livorno on August 23, 1876 from Valentino and Amalia Bartolini. After the first youthful studies as self-taught, in the nineties attended the artists livornesi U. Manaresi and G. Micheli, in the study of which he knew A. Modigliani, A. De Witt and L. Lloyd.

In 1900 Ghiglia moved to Florence and later shared with Modigliani, to whom he was united by a close friendship, a furnished room in Via S. Gallo. On the advice of G. Fattori, he attended the Scuola libera del nudo, where he met fellow artists such as G.C. Vinzio and others who were students or frequenters of the old and venerated master from Livorno. Among them, A. Soffici and G. Melis who, together with U. Brunelleschi and G. Costetti, decided to leave one autumn morning of the same year for Paris to visit the Universal Exhibition, each in his own way, bringing back impressions and influences of Parisian art.

In those years Florence was again becoming a lively point of reference for the cultural and artistic debate, ambitiously aligning itself with the international experiences and, in particular, with those of Venice and Rome, with initiatives that had already taken place by the end of 1896, such as the International Exhibition "Festival of Art and Flowers" (visited by Ghiglia) and the birth of the magazine called Il Marzoccoda G. D'Annunzio, which in the same period of years settled in Settignano and remained there until 1910. On the hills north of Florence, at the famous villa "I Tatti", had moved B. Berenson, while already from 1894 A. Böcklin lived at Villa Bellagio, near Fiesole, a favorite place also, significantly in the nineties, by Maurice Denis. The German presence at Bellosguardo, near the convent of S. Francesco di Paola, where Adolf von Hildebrand and, from 1905, Max Klinger lived, or that of the French artist, already a member of the Pont-Aven group, Henry De Prureaux, whose wife Ghiglia painted a portrait of (location unknown), are also important. In 1901, moreover, A. De Carolis obtained the chair of decoration at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, where he became friends with D'Annunzio: here, on the night of November 25th 1902, G. Papini announced the foundation of the magazine Il Leonardo to which, among others, De Carolis, the young artists G. Costetti and A. Spadini, and, later, Soffici and Ghiglia collaborated.

In this context, the young painter from Leghorn elaborated a personal figurative language where he combined the tradition of Macchiaioli painting, in particular of the venerated Fattori, with symbolist echoes taken from Böcklin and Costetti, up to the tendencies of In arte libertas by De Carolis. On the strength of these experiences, Ghiglia made a successful debut at the Venetian Biennial of 1901, presenting a Self-portrait (location unknown: Stefani, table I) painted in Livorno in the same year: this is one of the first known paintings by this prolific painter whose production, for the most part currently conserved in private Florentine collections, has been amply documented by the two Tuscan exhibitions of 1996, to the catalogs of which we refer you for reproductions of the paintings.

In 1902 he exhibited at the exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts in Florence, where he returned the following year. Also in 1902 he married Isa Morandini whose Portrait (location unknown: Stefani, table II) was presented in the "Tuscan Room" at the Venice Biennale the following year.

The painting, appreciated by Papini, G. Prezzolini and L. Andreotti, was reported for the gold medal, but to no avail. The success of the work induced A. Fradeletto, secretary of the Biennale, to go to Florence in view of a promised personal room of Ghiglia at the Biennale of 1905: Fradeletto was able to see a group of challenging portraits, among which the one of the Mother and of Mrs. De Prureaux (both of unknown location), as well as L'ava (unknown location: ibid., table V). However, the jury of the VI Venetian Biennial only accepted the paintings L'ava and the Portrait of Miss Bertina Merzbacher (catal., p. 123), which were exhibited in 1905 in the "Tuscan Room".

The invitations to some important artistic events, even international ones (among these the International Exhibition of 1904 in Saint Louis, where he presented Medusa of unknown location), or the participation with thirteen works at the exhibition of the Florentine Promotrice of 1906 show that Ghiglia was considered one of the most promising young Italian painters, as confirmed by the flattering judgments of contemporary critics.

At the 1905 Venetian Biennial, Ghiglia was able to become directly acquainted with the work of the Nabis group and, in particular, with that of F. Valloton, whose style he assimilated surprisingly ahead of the many other Italian artists influenced by the Swiss painter, such as F. Casorati. 

"In the work of Valloton and of the French collaborators of the Revue Blanche, from Bernard to Vuillard, Ghiglia could appreciate and take up the use of color in vibrant taches of pigment and the powerful and simplified masses, firmly enclosed in essential outlines: These were reasons that induced the young man to abandon the residual and binding naturalism of the late Macchiaioli, in favor of a painting marked by new cuts and frames, with clear scans and clear identification of volumes" (Pratesi - Uzzani, pp. 61 s.). These characteristics can already be seen in Autoritratto al cavalletto (Self-portrait at the easel) of 1906, but they appear more clearly in Isa che sbuccia i fagioli (Isa peeling the beans), Camicia bianca (White shirt), both of 1909, and La signora Ojetti al piano (Mrs. Ojetti at the piano) of 1910. Ghiglia seems to have received other precise ideas from the Dane W. Hammershøi, who was also present at the Venice Biennale in 1903.

One of the most relevant moments of Ghiglia's artistic activity is the one that matures at the end of the first decade and arrives at the threshold of the Great War. Thanks to the intercession of his friend, the sculptor and collector Mario Galli, he met Gustavo Sforni in 1908-09. Sforni was also a painter and a friend of Fattori's, as well as being one of the first Italians to collect works by E. Degas, V. Van Gogh and P. Cézanne. In 1911 Sforni, showing great esteem for Ghiglia, offered him a "contract", which would last a lifetime, of 500 lire per month in exchange for a right of pre-emption on the works that would have interested him the most.

Ghiglia masterfully developed his research during the period in which the Cézanne's were more numerous than the Botticelli's (according to the well-known boutade of E. Cecchi, Tre volti di Firenze, in I piaceri della pittura, Vicenza 1960, p. 385). Paintings by the master of Aix were conserved, as well as in the Sforni collection, in the collection of Egisto Fabbri and Carlo Loeser. Since his return to Florence in 1907, Soffici divulged, together with Cézanne, to whose lesson he dedicated several paintings, the painting of Maurice Denis. It was V. Pica published Cézanne's works for the first time in 1908 in his book on the French Impressionists, from which Soffici himself, despite his aversion to the critic, had drawn. Thus, in June 1908, his fundamental and first critical essay on Paul Cézanne appeared in the pages of the Sienese magazine Vita d'arte. Here, Soffici appreciated the "spiritual unity" that united the various protagonists of Cézanne's compositions, where "men, animals, trees and skies were no longer depicted as isolated or fragmentary personalities, but united in a harmony of lines and tones". Several artists accepted these suggestions: besides Ghiglia, Fillide Levasti, Arturo Checchi and Costetti. At the same time as Ghiglia's proposals, Ricciotto Canudo exalted in the same magazine P. Gauguin and Cézanne as "new primitives" and supporters of an art understood as overcoming the faithful and meticulous transcription "of every formal detail" for an "absolute abstraction of reality", "evocation" or "suggestion", but not "definition" (Corrispondenze estere. Francia, in Vita d'arte, I [1908], 1, pp. 55 ff.).

In Vita d'arte, in symptomatic continuity with his interventions on Cézanne, G. Papini in 1908 dedicated an impassioned and first article to Ghiglia, exalting his "pictorial liberation" following the example of Gauguin and Cézanne, thanks to whom the artist from Livorno succeeded, even though he represented "small scenes, small intimate pictures" (Papini, p. 280), in "overcoming the effects of the "artistic and artistic" (Correspondence from abroad, France, I [1908], 1, pp. 55 ff.). (Papini, p. 280), to "overcome the faithfully realistic effects in favor of synthetic and pure pictorial suggestions" (Pratesi - Uzzani, p. 74).

To the artistic and intellectual milieu to which Ghiglia refers, maturing in these years his fervid artistic line to which he will remain faithful, we must add the name of Ugo Ojetti. Precisely in 1908, when the relationship between the eminent critic and the painter was already well established, Ghiglia painted one of his most representative works, the Portrait of Ojetti's wife, Fernanda, also known as Mrs. Ojetti in the rose garden (1907: catal., Livorno 1996, p. 37 n. 5). In 1909 Ghiglia is said to have painted La toilette della signora Ojetti, a still life also entitled Lo specchio, and Ritratto di Ugo Ojetti nello studio, datable to 1909-10.

Ojetti included Ghiglia's work in the best of the Tuscan tradition, justifying it, in particular, with that of Piero Della Francesca; The painter replied to Ojetti in a letter dated May 1908 (kept at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, Ojetti Archive) written from Arezzo, where he was a guest of Pier Ludovico Occhini, director of the magazine Vita d'arte, thanking him for having included him "in the herd" and confirming the rightness of the comparison with Piero, so much so that he declared himself "deeply moved" by Piero's cycle of S. Francesco. Francesco (the letter is quoted by C. Zappia, in catal, Prato 1996, p. 14).

At the famous exhibition on the Impressionists organized in 1910 by Soffici at the Florentine Lyceum on behalf of La Voce, Ghiglia could find a confirmation of his desire to integrate primitive tradition, Renaissance, and the painting of the "stain" with French art; thus, in the first years of the decade, ten works were born which highlight this admirable synthesis: Anfore e zucca (Amphorae and Gourd), datable to 1912-13, La sedia rossa (The Red Chair) and Calle e aranci (Callas and Oranges) (both of 1913: Stefani, tavv. XLIX, L), or the Self-portrait with Sforni of about 1913-14.

In this period, the artist devoted himself to the critical elaboration of his monograph on Fattori, published by the publishing house Self of his friend Sforni, directed by Papini. Ghiglia read Fattori with a Cézannean eye: "painting is founded solely on the law of knowing how to find the right tone of a color and to force it into its right space and that the emotion that gives rise to the idea in the mind of the painter is given only by the size of the colors" (L'opera di Giovanni Fattori, Firenze 1913, p. 10). Symptomatically, Ghiglia, in a letter to Sforni in the summer of 1914, wrote about his work: "I think of Van Gogh, Cézanne and Fattori all at once" (Stefani, p. 165).

This is the divide that was opening up within a generation of Tuscan artists: the interpretation of Cézanne offered by Ghiglia would still qualify a research linked to Fattori; instead, Soffici made use of Cézanne to overcome nineteenth-century naturalism and to return to the purity of Giotto and Masaccio, combining these cues, after 1910, with Picassian cubism and his adherence to futurism; it is not surprising that 1913 was the year in which Ghiglia's relations with Papini and Soffici, who, as we know, had joined Futurism by founding the magazine Lacerba, soured.

From 1914 Ghiglia spent long periods in Castiglioncello. Here he devoted himself mainly to still life, a theme which was very dear to him, concentrating on the object as a formalistic element rather than a purely sentimental one: for this reason he alternated a dense drafting of material with almost enamelled surfaces.

In the first post-war period Ghiglia re-established relations with his old friends Papini and Soffici. From this moment on, however, he worked in a substantially secluded manner, although he continued to receive critical attention. Ojetti wrote about Ghiglia in 1920 in the magazine Dedalo and, in 1921, presented him in a collective exhibition of contemporary Italian art at the Galleria Pesaro in Milan. Ojetti also favored the purchase of one of his works (Il piatto giallo, circa 1920-21) by the Museum of Italian Art in Lima. In 1926, the painter took part in the historic first Italian Novecento exhibition in Milan, exhibiting works such as Vecchio poncho (1924) and Autoritratto (Self-portrait) of 1906. Three years later he returned to Pesaro for an exhibition that saw him exhibiting alongside his sons Valentino and Paulo, also painters. The portraits of Giuseppina Pichi, Piccola Finzi and Giovanni Querci date back to the early 1930s. In 1935 he took part in his last important exhibition, the second Quadrennial in Rome, where he exhibited a large group of works. Later he continued to work in a secluded and intimate dimension.

Ghiglia died in Florence on June 24, 1945 after a long illness.




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  • Styles of art
    Post-Impressionism, Realism
  • Techniques
    Oil
  • Art forms
    Painting
  • Subjects
    Still life, Portrait, Genre scene
  • Teacher