A lesson of tragedy and greatness
By Francesco Carelli
Professor in Milan, Rome
Mario Sironi was one of the greatest Master in Italian XXth Century, with a real complex activity in all the periods of his painting, since the Symbolist beginning to the Divisionist moment, from the Futurist period to the Metaphysic one, from Italian “ Novecento “ to mural painting and to the works of the period after Second World War.
Sironi was one of the most original Italian painters, and also one of the most representative of his age, as attested by his colleagues’ (and not just their) high regard for him. “Sironi was Mussolinian but he never fifed for fascist revolution because his art, full of drama, was more fitting to the truth than to propaganda. Sironi, then, was the most German among Italian painters and the most Italian among German painters.”
An artist of high European level, an artist about whom Picasso himself used to say “you have a great artist, maybe the greatest in this period and you don’t realize it”.
The artist’s juvenile phase begin with the initial Symbolist movement before the Futurist period and Metaphysic one (the Lamp. Then the Twenties Years follow, when Sironi is among the founders of the Italian “Novecento” and open the Novecento period and Classic period, in which one of his masterpieces is created, the Architect, 1922-1923 (showed at Venice Biennale in 1924). The moment of his “Expressionist crisis” is between the Twenties and Thirties Years , and the subsequent adventure of Mural painting, still in the Thirties (the Worker); the Neo-Metaphysic (Eclipse) and the return to the painting of Forties (the Penitent Woman); at last the works created after the War and the Apocalypse, one of his last painting cycles, almost the artist’s legacy of ideals. Last paintings, also, about hard reality of workers ( Foundry near Naviglio Grande Milano , 1960 ).
His paintings are at GNAM (Rome), the Modern Art Gallery of Rome Capital, Ca’ Pesaro and Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice), MART of Trento and Rovereto, Brera Pinacotheca and Museum of XXth Century (Milano), GAM (Torino), Museum of Modern Art “Mario Rimoldi” (Regole d’Ampezzo), Comunal Pinacotheca of Faenza. These works retrace the whole way of the painter’s life and work, from which we can discern an idea of art as anti-academic, open to suggestions coming from theatre, architecture, sculpture, illustration and drawing and advertising.
The throbbing heart works are Sironi’s monumental works, as the Worker (1936) and the Empire (1936), because “the grandness of the town not by chance called Eternal deeply influences his idea of art. The ideal of the Great Decoration that Sironi developed in the Thirties was born in him well before those years (and well before Fascism), looking at Titus Arch and Colosseum, Massenzio’s Basilica and Traian Column, Pantheon and Caracalla’s Thermae , the fresco of Raphael and Michaelangelo”.
“His painting is a lesson of tragedy…. There is no painter who is worth his paintings”. The man who wrote this sentence was not an art critic, academic, University Professor, but the writer Gianni Rodari. And he was not speaking about aesthetics, but telling of when he saved the artist’s life on 25th April, when Sironi was arrested by a group of Partisans to which he, Rodari, belonged. Maybe because he’s not a critic, Rodari strikes the core of the matter: Sironi’s art is a lesson of tragedy. But there is more than it. Sironi’s painting is also a lesson of greatness. These two things in his works fit perfectly one in the other like valves of a shell. Tragedy, that is drama, strain, expressionism, romanticism. Greatness, that is strength, balance, solemnity, classicality”.
In his last works he looked at difficult workers’ life, mainly during that post-war period ( Foundry Workers near Naviglio Grande in Milano, 1960 ).
All Sironi’s life was accompanied by depressive crisis, since when , still a student, he stopped from his studies, till when his ideals were totally destroyed from the war events. In a paper, written in 1944- 45 , we read “ Every day is an enormous effort to go on, to resist with this heart crushed by the enormous fatigue to exist…There is nobody here close to me; just more atrocious loneliness, as always… In some moments, I still delude myself. Then the horrid and gloomy wind starts blowing anew…Everything fell apart in the last few months, everything. There’s nothing left but rubbles and fear “. And in a 1945 or 1946 letter he wrote: “ But what came later was even more lugubrious…I saw things that even my bitter philosophy wouldn’t have allowed me to imagine. I saw the atrocity of life and the bestiality of human nature .
Photo: Oil on canvas – Foundry Workers near Naviglio Grande in Milano, 1960