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