Unforgiving nudes are the focus of a new exhibition in Venice of the 20th century realist painter, and youngest son of the legendary Sicilian playwright.
VENICE - The details of the life of Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), the most illustrious playwright of his time, are well-known, especially the following dramatic episodes: In 1903, the deadly collapse of Sicily's sulfur mine that had at first made his family rich ruined it. Soon after, his wife Maria Antonietta Portulano started showing the first signs of delirium. She would be committed to an institution in 1919 after accusing her husband of incest with their daughter. These events are often cited by those looking to explain the works of Pirandello.
They should equally be used to understand the paintings of his son Fausto (1899-1975). Fausto, the youngest of Luigi's three children, had a very harsh painting style, which hasn't been shown much undoubtedly for this reason. But this year, one of the events associated with the 54th Venice Biennale is a showing of his nudes. One might love to see more, as it brings together only 25 works of art. But opportunities to see Fausto Pirandello's are too rare to neglect this one – nothing in Paris, for example, since 1929.
His nudes are among the strangest of the century – brutal, unpleasant, and almost unbearable at times. Think of Fautrier, Dubuffet, of course Bacon, and, perhaps unexpectedly, de Kooning. Adoration and loathing of woman alternate from one instant to the next. There is ample material for psychoanalysis here, if only because of the relationships the painter had with his crazy mother and his tyrannical father. Each painting appears to have narrowly escaped destruction.
Fausto was not supposed to be a painter. In front of his canvasses, his own son, Pier Luigi Pirandello, explains how, called up in the last months of World War I, Fausto returned home safely. Luigi decided that such a war should be commemorated with monuments and as a result, his son should become a sculptor. Thus would he earn the money that the family had needed since the 1903 bankruptcy (though Luigi's pieces did not turn profit before the 1920s). But there was an obstacle: Like his father, an amateur painter, Fausto was leaning toward painting. Despite his father's orders, he tries out paper and canvas, initially in a sort of "Viennese" style – like Schiele or Klimt – then, after 1923, intense realism.
On to Paris
The exhibit opens on nudes laying on unmade beds, the soles of their feet in the foreground, their sex in the center of the canvas, their breasts rolled to the sides, their head thrown back. Pirandello paints and repaints Gustave Courbet's The Origin of the World that he cannot have seen and Le Sommeil, or Sleep, which he has. Intrigued by the reputation of beautiful girls, Pirandello goes to Anticoli Corrado, a village in Lazio, where a young peasant, Pompilia d'Aprile, poses for him. He marries her – a new motive of paternal fury. As for his son's paintings, Luigi writes him to say how much he hates them.
To get away from him, from Mussolini's Italy, who, unlike his father, he refuses to approve of, and to better get acquainted with the art of his time, Pirandello moves to Paris in 1927 with his wife. Their son is born the next year.
He meets Picasso, Pascin, Derain and the Italian "colony" - De Chirico, Savinio, Severini, De Pisis, Campigli. A company whose influence is clear in the nudes of the 1930s, affected by the neoclassicism that was the fashion of the time. But the artist's obsessive relationship with his model sparks an urge within him to desecrate too-perfect beauty until it reaches the grotesque. Though he yields to the will of his father by returning to Italy in 1931, it is to continue his struggle with nudes and not to collect accolades.
According to his son, family life was a succession of dramas. Fausto hires a model and quickly loves her a bit too much. Forced by his wife's suspicion and anger, he gets rid of his muse only to immediately invite another into his studio. This explains the diversity of anatomies and faces, and the ferocious treatment they endured.
In the 1940s, the forms turn hard and break off into sharp corners. The young women pose on their backs, legs crossed in the air or sitting on a stool, their skin giving in to gravity, hands clasped above their sex. The skin is mottled, with red and blue bruises. The paint is dry, granular or crushed by a knife on the cardboard, which Pirandello's preferred to canvas. His pastels aren't softer.
Until his death, as his exhibits became more rare, the experience repeats itself without losing any of its intensity.
Read the original story in French
Photo - Palazzo Grimani