Osvaldo Louis Guglielmi, “Subway Exit, 1946, Oil on Canvas, 76.2 x 66 cm, Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University
Born in April of 1906 in Cairo, Osvaldo Louis Guglielmi was an American painter. He was the only son of Talmiro Guglielmi, a violinist and viola player with Arturo Toscanini’s orchestra, and Dometilla Secchi Guglielmi, who returned to her native Milan shortly after her son’s birth. Talmiro Guglielmi toured with Toscanini’s orchestra throughout Australia, Europe and the Americas. After a tour through Canada, Brazil and North America with Russian ballerina Anna Pavolova, he brought his family to New York City where the settled in the largely Italian immigrant community of East Harlem.
At a young age, Louis Guglielmi pursued an interest in sculpture and worked in a local bronze casting facility in the city. During his high school years,.he began in 1920 evening art classes at the National Academy of Design and studied sculpture at Manhattan’s Beaux Arts Institute. In 1923, Guglielmi left high school to concentrate full-time on courses at the National Academy. At his life drawing class, Guglielmi met fellow student Gregorio Prestopino, who is known for his social realist scenes of the urban working-class executed in the style of the Ashcan School . Through their college years, the two men shared a studio space in the city.
After his graduation in 1926, Guglielmi struggled financially for six years and took various inadequately-paid jobs to support his painting. In 1927 at the age of twenty-one, he was granted citizenship in the United States. Guglielmi relocated in 1932 to the New England area and, once again, began a serious period of intense painting. With the aid of a fellowship, he was able to spend eleven summers at the prestigious MacDowell Art Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The solitude of the scenery surrounding the colony and Guglielmi’s interactions with his fellow artists inspired him and focused a new direction to his work: the plight of humanity caught in the midst of the Great Depression.
During the early 1930s as the Depression settled on the country, Louis Guglielmi applied for relief from the government. In 1934, he managed to secure meager wages as a painter for the Works Project Administration, the federal New Deal program the employed jobseekers, mostly men and not formally educated, for public works projects. This program subsidized many artists and craftsmen in the 1930s. Guglielmi worked with the WPA for five years during which time he traveled and painted both easel work and murals.
Having seen Guglielmi’s work for the WPA, prominent art dealer Edith Gregor Halpert invited him in 1936 to join the group of artists at her Downtown Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village. In 1938, Guglielmi showcased his paintings in his first solo exhibition which was held at Halpert’s gallery to major critical acclaim. On May 22nd in 1939, he married Anne Di Maggio, who seven years later gave birth to a son.
Louis Guglielmi’s work just before the Second World War were often bleak images of suffering. He spent 1943 through 1945 in the United States Army Corps of Engineers, a time in which he did not produce any paintings. Guglielmi’s existing work, though, was in included in the 1943 “American Realists and Magic Realists” exhibition held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. After his experiences in the war, Guglielmi’s work changed in style and content; he became more concerned with the formal issues of society: poverty, the living and working conditions of the poor, and the political issues of the time.
Guglielmi became influenced at this time by the work of Fauvist painters Joan Miró and Henri Matisse, and the bold, colorful paintings of his friend Stuart Davis. His paintings lightened in spirit and communicated to the viewer a sense of energy and optimism. Guglielmi’s body of work contains aspects of all the various movements of his time: surrealism, cubism, geometric abstraction, regionalism and social realism. His experiments with form, a major component of his work, set him apart from the prevailing American style of Abstract Expressionism, which in effect marginalized his status as a contemporary painter.
Louis Guglielmi was an instructor of art at Manhattan’s New School of Social Research from 1950 to 1951. Beginning in June of 1950, he taught at Louisiana State University, first as a visiting artist and later in the position of an associate professor which he held until 1953. In 1952, Guglielmi was presented a Temple Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy in recognition of his work.
With the intention of remaining in Europe for the summer, Guglielmi traveled to Italy in the spring of 1956. However, after four days in Italy, he returned back to the United States. That summer, Guglielmi took his wife and ten-year old son to their new home in Amagansett, a small town located on the eastern tip of Long Island, New York. On September 3rd of 1956, Osvaldo Louis Guglielmi died of a sudden heart attack. A retrospective of his work, entitled “O. Louis Guglielmi” The Complete Precisionist”, was held in February of 1961 at New York’s distinguished Nordness Gallery.
Note: In January of 2014, Guglielmi’s works, including his 1946 “Subway Exit”, were presented as part of the Georgia Museum of Art’s exhibition “Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy”. This show was a historical reproduction of the 1946 traveling exhibition “Advancing American Art” that was sponsored by LeRoy Davidson of the U.S. State Department. The 2014 “Art Interrupted” show reunited all the paintings of the original exhibition and scrutinized the U.S. State Department’s use of fine art as a tool in the Cold War. Works in the exhibition included paintings by such artists as Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, Ben Shahn, and Stuart Davis.
LeRoy Davidson’s intent for the 1946 traveling collection was to exhibit the diversity of American art, demonstrate the power of democracy, and promote good will among the United States, Europe and Latin America. The exhibition, however, received intense criticism from the press. Provoked by the press, members of the U.S. Congress and President Harry Truman deemed the art in the show un-American. By 1948, all seventy-nine works in the show were auctioned off. Davidson was forced to resign, his position in the State Department was abolished, and the entire project ridiculed in the press.
Second Insert Image: O. Louis Guglielmi, “The Amrican Dream”, 1935, Oil on Masonite, 54.6 x 76.2 cm, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: o. Louis Guglielmi, “One Third of a Nation”, 1939, Oil and Tempera on Wood, 76.2 x 61 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fifth Insert Image: Osvaldo Louis Guglielmi, “View in Chambers Street”, 1936, Oil on Canvas, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: O. Louis Guglielmi, “Relief Blues”, circa 1938, Tempera on Fibreboard, 61.1 x 76.2 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC