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ALBERTO MAGNELLI

(1888-1971)

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Biography

"To elevate humanity through art, we must not seek formal realism, naturalism or materialism but instead reach for the critical poetical forces within the nature of man,”  - Alberto Magnelli

Alberto Magnelli was born in Florence in 1888 to a family of wealthy merchants. He took an early interest in the Renaissance artists of his homeland including Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello, and Piero della Francesca and taught himself to paint by 1907 when he was in his early teens. By 1910, he was included in his first Venice Biennale with works painted in the Fauvist style.

In 1911, he was approached by the leader of Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti who invited him to join their avant-garde movement. Magnelli declined since he didn’t readily identify with their ideals. Instead, he remained an outsider, who turned toward abstraction while retaining Futurist elements in his work which allowed him to exhibit with the group.

The Artist made a resolute shift toward geometric abstraction after he met the Cubists, Picasso, Gris and Léger, in Paris in 1913. His first abstract works appeared during the winter of 1914-15, defined by the Artist’s unique elliptical forms and large blocks of vibrant colour. Despite the heavily outlined shapes, his work always remained more romantic than analytical, according to Daniel Abadie, and this first series of abstractions established Magnelli as one of the inventors of this new form. He has since been known as one of the first Italian abstract painters.

In 1916, Magnelli started his military training and, upon his release, he turned to figuration, like many avant-garde artists of the day including Picasso and André Derain. By 1918, he was experimenting with geometric figuration, most notably in his formidable Explosion Lyrique series which celebrated the end of World War I with rich Fauvist colour, the armature of Cubism and the dynamism of Futurism.

After the war, Magnelli travelled extensively before he settled in Paris in 1932 to escape the rise of fascism in Italy and where he rediscovered his interest in abstraction. A trip through the Carrera marble region of Italy inspired his next Stone series which were “haunting, Surrealistic portrayals of massive marble blocks rendered in simplified lines, an abstracted and heavy plasticity against an otherworldly background,” (Guggenheim).

In Paris, Magnelli renewed his friendship with Picasso and joined the Abstraction-Création group where he met Wassily Kandinsky and Jean Arp, both influential in Magnellis’ life and work. When the Nazis invaded France, Magnelli moved to Grasse along with several artists including Arp and Robert Delauney.

During this time, he created works that were strict but colourful abstractions that included collages of found objects or assemblages, since the war made it difficult to find canvas or paint. He also had his first solo exhibition in the USA at the Nierendorf Gallery in New York (1937).

He returned to Paris in 1944 and, at the end of the war, began making refined geometric works that were playful abstractions with geometric shapes that were balanced by mixtures of colour and form which became more elegant and sophisticated. He maintained this style until his death.

The Magnelli retrospective at the Drouin Gallery in 1947 made him a major figure in the post-war art movement including concrete art and he became a role model for young French and Italian abstract artists like Victor Vasarely and Nicolas de Stael. He returned to the Venice Biennale in 1950, this time with an entire room to himself.

Before and after his death, on April 20, 1971, at his home in Paris, Magnelli’s work has been showcased in retrospectives and solo exhibitions at major institutions and museums around the world including the Palais des beaux-arts, Brussels; Kunsthaus Zürich; Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris; and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.