The Paintings of Felice Casorati
Born in December of 1883 in Novara, Felice Casorati was an Italian artist known for his sculptures and paintings, which were rendered from unusual perspectives and often featured obscure symbols. He spent his formative years in the northeastern city of Padua where he developed an interest in literature and music. Casorati studied law at the University of Padua, graduating in 1906, and frequented the atelier of painter and sculptor Giovanni Viannello.
Casorati began painting in 1902; his earliest paintings were influenced by the symbolism of the Vienna Secession, a movement, closely related to Art Nouveau, which sought to unite all the disciplines of art into one movement. These early works of Casorati were exhibited at the 1907 Venice Biennale. Casorati’s adherence to symbolist ideals was reinforced after meeting and seeing the work of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, one of the founders of the Vienna Secession, at the 1910 Vienna Biennale.
Felice Casorati spent the years between 1908 and 1911 in Naples, where he often visited the Museo di Capodimonte and viewed the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the Dutch Renaissance painter whom he particularly admired. Casorati relocated to Verona in 1911, where, along with poet and engraver Umberto Zerbinati and painter and graphic artist Pino Tedeschi, he founded the periodical “La Via Lattea (The Milky Way)”, for which he executed several symbolist woodcuts. For a brief period between 1914 and 1915, he abandoned his secessionist style and made expressionist woodcuts in the manner of Tuscan artists, such as Lorenzo Viani and Moses Levy.
Casorati’s first solo exhibition of his symbolist-influenced work was at the 1915 Secession III show held in Rome. Before being drafted into the Italian Army in 1915, he also executed his first sculptures in varnished terra cotta, a medium also favored by his friend, the sculptor Arturo Martini. After the end of World War I, Casorati settled at Turin in 1918 and became a prominent figure in the intellectual and artistic circles, including the conservative Return to Order movement which called for the rejection of the avant-garde in favor of a more traditionalist approach.
In Turin, Felice Casorati established friendships with composer and pianist Alfredo Casella and with the anti-fascist, political activist Piero Gobetti, who founded in February of 1922 the weekly magazine “De Rivoluzione Liberale”. Casorati supported the magazine and Gobetti , in return, championed Casorati’s work in Marxist writer and journalist Antonio Gramsci’s weekly newspaper, the “Ordine Nuovo”. Due to his radical associations, Casorati was arrested with an anti-Fascist group by the authorities for a brief period in 1923 and, subsequently, avoided antagonizing the regime.
The work Casorati produced in the 1920s was radically different from his pre-war work, which he now considered to be immature. The figures in his new work were solidly constructed and set securely in spaces organized by linear perspective theories established in the Italian Renaissance period of the fifteenth-century. Casorati was also influenced by Italian painter Andrea Mantegna’s work with its dramatically foreshortened figures, and the work of painter Piero della Francesca, known for his mathematical treatises and geometrically-composed paintings.
In 1922, Felice Casorati painted what is considered his most famous work “Silvana Cenni”, a portrait inspired by the work of Piero della Francesca, which features a stern woman in a seated, symmetrical, frontal view positioned in front of an open window. This tempera work on canvas, composed of carefully rendered volumes, became an iconic portrait of the traditional and period art of Italy which is now known as Magical Realism.
Beginning in 1923, Casotati opened his atelier to young art students in Turin, many of who would form Torino’s Group of Six, and emerging artists such as self-taught artist and writer Quinto Martini. He was also the co-founder of the Antonio Fontanesi Fine Arts Society, which organized exhibitions of both nineteenth-century and contemporary Italian and foreign art. Casorati was appointed a Professor of Interior Design in 1928 at Turin’s Accademia Albertina, a post he held until appointed as its Chair of Painting in 1941.
Felice Casorati was commissioned by his patron, Turin industrialist Ricardo Gualino, to work with architect Alberto Sartoris on the Piccolo Teatro in Milan and other decorative works. Casorati also designed costumes and sets for Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and the Maggio Musicale, the annual arts festival in Florence. Once again working with Sartoris, he designed a building for part of the Piedmontese Pavilion at the 1927 International Biennale in the city of Monza. Casorati exhibited his work widely throughout Italy and won the First Prize at the 1939 Venice Biennale.
The majority of Casorati’s later paintings were done in a softer palette with a more gentle perspective. He produced over one hundred-fifty prints in his lifetime, in which he experimented with a variety of techniques that incorporated slate, papyrus and terra cotta matrixes. The simplified mannequin-like figures, which featured in Casorati’s prints of the late 1920s, remained in his etchings, linocuts, and lithographs for the length of his career.
Felice Casorati passed away on March 1, 1963. Most of his important works are in Italian private and public collections, including Trieste’s Modern Art Revoltella Museum and Rome’s National Gallery of Modern Art. Museums holding Casorati’s art in their collections include the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Musrum of Fine Arts in Boston, among others.