Rome, at GNAM an exhibition rediscovers Emanuele Cavalli, 20th century artist

At GNAM in Rome, an exhibition through March 20 rediscovers the figure of Emanuele Cavalli, a 20th-century artist, author along with Capogrossi and Melli of the Manifesto of Plastic Primordialism.

The exhibition Emanuele Cavalli and the Roman School: through the Archives, curated by Manuel Carrera, which runs from Feb. 10 to March 20, 2022 at the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, documents a crucial period in the history of twentieth-century art, that ofItaly between the wars, through the eyes of one of its protagonists: Emanuele Cavalli (Lucera, 1904 - Florence, 1981). Author together with Giuseppe Capogrossi and Roberto Melli of the "Manifesto of Plastic Primordialism, " the painter and photographer with his tonal painting became the interpreter of a new way of understanding figuration that marked an era.

The recent donation of his archives to the National Gallery by his daughter Maria Letizia offers an unprecedented glimpse into his artistic and human universe, punctuated by his entanglements with some of the most influential personalities of his time. Diaries, letters and documents recount the association with - among others - Felice Carena, Fausto Pirandello, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Corrado Cagli, Roberto Melli: the protagonists, that is, of the so-called "Roman School," a definition coined by critic Waldemar-George in the presentation of an exhibition held in Paris in 1933 by Cavalli, Cagli, Capogrossi and Ezio Sclavi.

In addition to a selection of the most significant documents from Emanuele Cavalli’s archives, the exhibition features some of the paintings, whose diaries and notes recount the long creative gestation. The evolution of Cavalli’s painting is then punctuated in the exhibition through comparisons with masterpieces by his closest colleagues from private collections and the collections of the National Gallery. Special attention is also devoted to Emanuele Cavalli’s activity as a photographer, between artistic photographs connected to his pictorial imagery and snapshots of daily life starring his sodalists.

The itinerary, divided into three sections, is enriched by documents from the archives of other personalities preserved by the National Gallery, such as those of Giuseppe Capogrossi and Rolando Monti, which link directly to that of Emanuele Cavalli, thus allowing the reconstruction of their respective correspondences.

The introductory section deals with Emanuele Cavalli’s debut in the art world under the wing of Felice Carena, at whom he studied painting starting in 1921, dividing his time between Rome and Anticoli Corrado. The archival documents in this section-a number of Carena’s letters both in the Cavalli fund and in other funds in the historical archives of the National Gallery of Modern Art-witness the Piedmontese painter’s influence on young Romans. The evolution of Emanuele Cavalli’s painting will thus be compared with that of his closest colleagues of the “Roman School.” The works are placed side by side for obvious compositional and iconographic similarities, but also to highlight their differences. In addition to paintings, drawings and photographs, this section of the exhibition will present the artist’s diaries, some of his most significant writings (including letters and notes) and the catalogs of the exhibitions in which he participated with his colleagues in the 1930s - at the height, that is, of “tonalist” research.

On the study of the infinite declinations of colors, or rather, of tones, Cavalli would concentrate much of his energies from the early 1930s onward, assisted by Capogrossi, Cagli and Roberto Melli (and more widely by other painters, Fausto Pirandello in primis, although the latter would always reject the classical purity pursued by his colleagues). In the second section of the exhibition, with the help of documents and comparisons, Cavalli’s tonal painting, its origins and outcomes will be investigated.

Such was the theoretical scope of their research in painting that it instilled in them the need to draft a manifesto, which they worked on for a long time, not without incurring disagreements: thus was born the Manifesto of Plastic Primordialism, dated October 31, 1933 and signed by Cavalli, Capogrossi and Melli, the latter in the guise of art critic. Upon reading the text, one understands how much of a central role was entrusted to color and how closely it was connected to the construction of forms, volumes and, more generally, to the balance of composition.

Typical of Cavalli will be the search for correspondences between forms and colors, objects and subjects, and it is precisely in this perspective that the artist’s desire to identify connections between the tones of painting and those of music should be read. The culmination of such research is the series of nine paintings - which will be partially reconstructed here - presented at the Quadriennale in Rome in 1943: the challenge Cavalli addressed to himself was to succeed in harmonizing tonal values, in an avowedly musical key, with the concrete representation of the human figure. The limitation of the portrait thus required him to tune chromatic variations to the tones of the complexion, that is, the one color that unites all the works in the series. However, it would be inaccurate to consider the works in the series of color harmonies mere exercises in aesthetic research. Indeed, the psychological component is not secondary in the paintings: with each variation in tone Cavalli effectively suggests a feeling or state of mind, thus demonstrating a fine introspective ability.

The concluding section of the exhibition aims to offer a look at Emanuele Cavalli’s activity as a photographer, investigating the connections with the research he conducted in painting. Portraits, landscapes and still lifes sketch the profile of a photographer with a full mastery of the instrument and a surprisingly modern gaze, such as to arouse renewed interest from critics in recent times.

The exhibition that the National Gallery is dedicating to Emanuele Cavalli is part of a context of valorization and celebration of the artist’s work, forty years after his death, which includes two additional exhibitions in different museum institutions, organized under the patronage of the National Gallery and the Museo Laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea of the Sapienza University of Rome, in collaboration with theEmanuele Cavalli Association: the exhibition Noi e l’immagine. Emanuele and Giuseppe Cavalli photographers, curated by Arianna Laurenti, Ilaria Schiaffini and Alessia Venditti, at the MLAC (Feb. 9-March 9, 2022) and the exhibition Emanuele Cavalli photographer: the years of Anticoli Corrado (1935-45), curated by Ilaria Schiaffini, scheduled at the Civic Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Anticoli Corrado (March 12-June 26, 2021).

For all information, you can visit the official website of the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Pictured: Emanuele Cavalli, Figure (red), 1943, oil on panel, 46x40 cm. Private collection.

Rome, at GNAM an exhibition rediscovers Emanuele Cavalli, 20th century artist
Rome, at GNAM an exhibition rediscovers Emanuele Cavalli, 20th century artist

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