Alberto Magri, painting origins but investigating the future

Alberto Magri is the Tuscan artist who tried to interpret the changes taking place at the beginning of the 20th century through painting. An investigation featuring independent and personal traits that starts with the rediscovery of deep Tuscan cultural roots and moves toward perceiving a possible future for mankind and for the world.

Franca Severini

Alberto Magri was born in Fauglia (in the province of Pisa) in 1880 and spent part of his life in Barga, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages located some miles from the walls of Lucca, in a valley on the banks of the Serchio River, that the famous poet Giovanni Pascoli - his contemporary and friend - defined “the valley of the beautiful and the good”.
Following regular academic studies, he lived in Paris in two different moments of his life, in 1902 and in 1903, where he met many artists. Tied to the world of illustrations, he then settled in Barga where he worked for the Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank until 1939, year of his death.


ALBERTO MAGRI IS THE PAINTER OF TRADITION, of a rethinking, and above all of classical artistic study. This interpretation of his evidently collided with what was happening in the vibrant Paris he visited at the beginning of the century, with his refusal of the descriptive and illustrative Realism of the last years of the 19th century, Impressionism, up to the Post-Macchiaioli, who dominated the Tuscan art scenario of the time.
His painting is deeply imbued with culture and this feature is closely tied to the life and figurativeness of his time: Magri’s art is like a great re-conquest of the values of tradition also through the reclamation of its techniques and pictorial language.
Underscoring Magri’s artistic individuality and referring once again to the situation in France, he is not in any way to be counted among the painters defined as “neo-primitive”; he has no relation with the primitivism of the “naïf” who have their founder in Henri Rousseau.Alberto Magri, instead, is well versed in pictorial techniques and in the paintbrush of 13th-century Italian painters as the apex of the artistic substance that, at that time, no one acknowledged any longer or put into practice.
He set out to find the means that would allow rendering the splendor of the materials, attaining an exceptional extreme, the one attempted in 1908, when he tried out a golden background, the Masters’ emblem of Tuscan art.
The rediscovery of origins will always distinguish him. He will consistently paint on cartons prepared in gypsum and cement with tempera color ground into powder and brushed on using a thin glazing, attaining effects of crystalline purity.
All this will lead the artist to totally reinvent the themes and the forms of the painting of the time.


THE THEMES OF ALBERTO MAGRI’S PAINTINGS were those that life offered him: the view of the Serchio Valley, the light, always different, that breaks into and envelopes the town of Barga and also his very own life that in many representations embodies the restlessness of man at the time.
Alberto Magri chooses the figure of the “street singer”, a highly autobiographical character who well represents the universality of the human condition of the time and, why not, also of the man of the future: almost a forecast of the complexity of the human spirit full of lights and shadows in facing reality. His “Cantastorie” (Street Singer) is an icon that is coarse and unreal at the same time; one that, through a strong formal simplification on the canvas into paintings that express a general obeisance of the human being, communicates a very vivid and total joy.


WE CAN DIVIDE ALBERTO MAGRI’S ART INTO TWO IMPORTANT PERIODS based on themes: the first is the period of the famous polyptychs “Vita campestre”, “Barga”, “Casa colonica”, “Vendemmia”, “Il bucato”. These large canvasses, extraordinary for the choice of colors and the ambiences they describe, were exhibited at the Lyceum in Florence in 1914 and represent moments of a life that returns to the very roots of its being.
Later come the paintings of reflection, of morale reduced to the most genuine emotion with “Casa in ordine” and “Casa in disordine”, a diptych later divided by the painter himself into individual parts and exhibited in Milan at “Famiglia Artistica” in 1916 together with the polyptycs.
Here, Magri is very warmly welcomed by an acclaimed artist, Umberto Boccioni, master of the art of Futurism, who writes about him on “Avvenimenti” in May 1916.
Although recognizing that they are on opposite sides formally speaking, he acknowledges him as an extremely cultured re-enactor of the manner, the taste, the style of a revolutionary and very knowledgeable epoch, that of the Middle Ages that historians call “of the primitives”, promptly raising him from the crowd of traditionalists and “conservatives”: beyond and above them. For Boccioni, Magri possesses an anti-photographic, anti-academic art that brings us back to the primordial elements, makes us forget the elaborate, complicated virtuosity of everyday painting.


BETWEEN 1915 AND 1916, ALBERTO MAGRI LIVED IN NORTHERN ITALY AND PAINTED “PIAZZA DEL DUOMO A MILANO”, a paralyzed scenario of the city, a “skeletal panorama” followed by an autobiographical return with “Piazza della stazione di Torino” where he presents the figure of the street singer also in his extraordinary “Molo di Viareggio” and in “Farmacista”, crystallizing the iconic figure with Barga. These canvases are today found at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Turin.
The other paintings that fix Alberto Magri’s art in the pantheon of universal artists are “Contadina”, 1912, private collection, “Le Alpi Apuane da Barga”, 1913, private collection, “Il buon padre”, 1914, private collection, “La buona madre”, 1914, private collection, “Lo studio”, 1914, private collection, “Non voglio più studiare”, 1914, private collection, “Il cantastorie”, 1915, private collection, “Loggia del mercato”, 1915, private collection, “Via del Pretorio”, 1916, private collection, “Crepuscolo estivo”, n 1918, private collection, “Ritratto di Giuseppina Colognori”, 1920, private collection “Autoritratto”, 1920, private collection, “Piazza serale”, 1933, housed in the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin, “Caffè del Paolo”, 1936, private collection, “Fonte di Castelvecchio”, 1936, private collection.


ALBERTO MAGRI IS A MILITANT ARTIST, in the sense of a man free from formal schemes who aspires to a society that does not demand and does not impose, not even in art.
His autonomous spirit inspires respect and attention. His fellow compatriots with renowned names were the painter and writer Lorenzo Viani, his friend, painters Moses Levy, Spartaco Carlini and Antonio Antony de Witt, all artists, scholars and intellectuals like the painter Plinio Nomellini, the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, the intellectuals and politicians Alceste De Ambris, Ceccardo Roccatagliata Ceccardi, who, each in his own way, ardently desired the chance to cut out a small space for themselves in the world where they could each live out their idea of life.
Alberto Magri is a counter-flow artist, a current artist today more than ever, who did not wish to demonstrate anything, did not look for consensus or contrasts, but only followed himself, and that in itself is quite an accomplishment.



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