Florence, 1895 – Ivrea, 1957
Ottone Rosai was the son of a Florentine carpenter and carver. He developed from an early age his interest in observing the surrounding reality. He attended the Institute of Decorative Arts, studying the ornate. Whilst working in his father’s shop, instead of paying attention to the tools and carvings, he observed the men working around him and portrayed them.
In 1910, he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts, a place he had dreamed of, but that proved to be a bourgeois environment with avaricious professors and envious students, from which he ended up being expelled. Despite this dismissal, Rosai pursued a self-taught career in painting, studying Cézanne, Courbet and Corot. Thanks to his father who rented a studio, Rosai began to paint and sculpt. In those same years, the encounter with Papini and Soffici was fundamental for the shaping of his style, becoming close to Futurism and taking part in the Esposizione Libera Futurista at the Galleria Sprovieri in Rome in 1914. He received much praise, and the acquaintance of Marinetti, Boccioni, Carrà and Severini led him, in 1914, to create futurist works and to adhere to interventional unrest that led to his participation in the First World War.
The Post First World War years represented for Rosai the beginning of a new quest that took him back to 15th Century Florence. As he returned home, he started to affiliate his point of view with the new ideas of a young Mussolini. His Futurist inspiration was often alternated with a Cubist tendency, before being translated in a pictorial austerity characterising his 1920s and 30s works. Firstly, the main subjects of his paintings were family portraits and still lifes, then he began to represent the landscapes of Florence, depicting them from the point of view of its inhabitants, especially from the working class’s perspective. From 1920 on, we can observe his most intimate and lyrical subjects, with the “little men” who become characteristic of his language, manifesting a rigour made of chiaroscuro, of defined and orderly lines, of a perfect balance between volume and mass. To his typical subjects, during the 1940s, Rosai began to add the sea and subsequently an interest in the individual portrait.
During the 1950s, he achieved an international success, exhibiting in shows all over Europe: in Zurich, Madrid, Paris and London. In the last years of his career, his Post-War paintings achieved an even more marked Metaphysical and popular dimension. He passed away in 1957, while he was curating the display of a personal exhibition.
Morandi, Balla, de Chirico and Italian Painting 1920-1950
exhibition catalogue edited by Tornabuoni Art London. Essay by Flavia Frigeri. N/b and colored illustrations, 175 pages, 24×29 cm, English/Italian, 2020.