by Lorenzo Licini
born on 22 March in Monte Vidon Corrado, a town near Fermo, in the Italian region of Marche. Immediately after his birth, his parents, Vincenzo Licini and Amedea Corazza, moved to Paris for work. There, Vincenzo worked as a commercial poster designer and Amedea ran a fashion house. Osvaldo remained in Monte Vidon Corrado, cared for by his paternal grandfather, Filippo. In 1896, his sister Esmeralda was born in Paris.
shortly after he turned fourteen, he moved to Bologna to attend the Fine Arts Academy. His fellow students included Giorgio Morandi, Mario Bacchelli, Severo Pozzati (Sepo) and Giacomo Vespignani.
had contact with Futurist circles, without, however, essentially subscribing to Futurism.
During the summer, he wrote Racconti di Bruto (Stories about Bruto), five short stories in which Bruto is Osvaldo himself. He had the musician Francesco Balilla Pratella read the manuscript.
Painted a self-portrait that he later gave to his friend Morandi.
in March, he presented his work to the public for the first time, in a group exhibition of the so-called Secessionists held in Bologna in the basement of the Hotel Baglioni; the other artists included Bacchelli, Morandi, Pozzati and Vespignani.
Towards the end of the year, he moved to Florence to study sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts.
1915 — 1916
fought in World War I. His leg was injured in Podgora (leaving him with a permanent limp), and he was sent to the military hospital in Florence.
In the Tuscan capital, he met Beatrice Müller, a young Swiss woman who, having completed her language studies in Geneva and London, decided at the outbreak of World War I to join the International Red Cross for humanitarian reasons. Stationed in Florence, Osvaldo began a relationship with her that resulted in the birth of their son Paolo in 1917.
went to Paris to recover from his injury, staying with his mother Amedea and his sister Esmeralda, a ballerina at the Opéra. By that point, his father had died.
At the Café de la Rotonde, he met, among others, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Blaise Cendrars, Ortiz de Zarate and Moïse Kisling. During that period, he also met the art dealer Leopold Zborowski, who later became a collector of his work. In May, at the Châtelet Theater, he attended the first performance of Cocteau’s Parade, with music by Erik Satie and sets by Picasso.
In Montparnasse, in the fall, he met Amedeo Modigliani, and the two became friends. Modigliani drew a portrait of him that was, however, destroyed a few years later in a fire.
spent a long period in Paris. Through the French painter Maurice Loutreuil, he participated in a group exhibition comparing ‘pompier’ and ‘moderne’ artists at the Devambez Gallery. The other artists included, among others, Manuel Ortiz de Zarate and Chaïm Soutine.
Participated in the 14th Salon d’automne with three female portraits.
1922 — 1925
continued to divide his time between Italy and France.
During these years, he was engaged in stimulating cultural dialogue with his Marche friends Felice and Ermenegildo Catalini, Gino Nibbi and Acruto Vitali.
Participated in a few exhibitions in Paris: in 1922, the 15th Salon d’automne; in 1923, the 34th Salon des indépendants; in 1924, a group exhibition at the La Closerie des Lilas and a solo exhibition at his sister Esmeralda’s home in Boulevard Lannes.
Through his sister, he met Gabriel Voisin (the French aviation pioneer and aircraft and car producer), who became one of his first collectors.
In 1925, he participated in the 36th Salon des indépendants.
in part due to the interest of the painter Gian Emilio Malerba (whom he met through the artist Mario Tozzi), he participated with three works in the I Mostra del Novecento italiano promoted by Margherita Sarfatti in Milan; the works displayed were a still life and two seascapes (one of which is Marina)
Married the Swedish painter Nanny Hellström, whom he met in France, and they moved to Monte Vidon Corrado.
participated in the Novecento Italiano exhibition in Amsterdam (Exhibition of Italian art in the Netherlands), presented by Enrico Morpurgo; he displayed four works, one of which a still life (Natura morta con arancia).
in Paris, he participated in the group exhibition Les artistes italiens de Paris, curated by Mario Tozzi.
Devoted himself to illustrating a book about Giacomo Leopardi, creating a few drawings of the writer, but the project was later abandoned.
in Milan, he participated in the II Mostra del Novecento italiano.
Filled out a questionnaire, which he sent to Giovanni Scheiwiller, in which he described, among other things, the stages of his artistic development up to then: fantastical primitivism (from 1913 to 1915), war episodes (from 1915 to 1920) and, from 1920 to 1929, realism (the term realism was, however, followed by a question mark, indicating the singularity of his approach to representing reality).
In Paris, he participated in the group exhibition Art italien moderne, organised by Mario Tozzi.
displayed his work in Basel and then in Bern in the exhibition Artisti della nuova Italia, presented by Alberto Sartoris.
Painted what is considered his first abstract painting (Fili astratti su fondo bianco).
participated with two works (Figura in verde e Paesaggio) in the I Quadriennale d’arte nazionale in Rome.
In September, he went to Stockholm for the opening of the exhibition ‘Novecento italiano’ Nutida italiensk konst, in which he presented two still lifes and a portrait of Nella (figura).
wrote a story, Sibilla, the manuscript of which has never been found.
in Venice, he met the critic Giuseppe Marchiori for the first time, having been in correspondence with him since 1932.
In Burano, on the guest register of a trattoria, he described himself as errante eretico erotico (errant heretical erotic).
In the magazine L’Orto, he published a text in memory of Modigliani, ‘Ricordo di Modigliani’.
in Rome, he displayed three works in the II Quadriennale d’arte nazionale: Il Bilico (1934), Castello in Aria (1932) and Stratosfera.
Read Carlo Belli’s essay on abstract art, ‘Kn’, with enthusiasm.
In March, he participated with six works in the Prima mostra collettiva di arte astratta italiana in Turin at the studio of Felice Casorati and Enrico Paulucci; the other artists included, among others, Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti, Mauro Reggiani, Atanasio Soldati and Luigi Veronesi.
Two of his works were reproduced in the fourth issue of the French magazine Abstraction – Création art non figuratif.
In Milan, at the Galleria del Milione, he held his first solo exhibition in Italy, showing thirty-seven paintings and a few drawings. The paintings included Notturno n. 2, of 1932.
Went to Paris, where he met Kandinsky, Zervos, Kupka, Herbin and Magnelli.
at the Villa Olmo, in Como, he displayed work in the Mostra di pittura moderna italiana.
in Milan, he participated in the group exhibition Venti firme at the Galleria del Milione.
In the Il Corriere Padano, he published the article Natura di un discorso, explaining his conception of art.
the year of the first letter documenting his correspondence with Franco Ciliberti, theosophist and scholar of Asian philosophies.
Attended the talk given by Marinetti at the Teatro delle Arti in Rome, Defence of civilisation for the freedom of art.
participated, in Rome, in the III Quadriennale d’arte nazionale.
joined the Gruppo Primordiale Futurista, founded in Como, other members of which included Cesare Cattaneo, Franco Ciliberti, Pietro Lingeri, Mario Radice, Manlio Rho, Alberto Sartoris and Giuseppe Terragni.
Alberto Sartoris published the essay Osvaldo Licini archipittore in Origini.
1943 — 1945
supported the activity of the National Liberation Committee.
became mayor of Monte Vidon Corrado.
displayed work in Milan in the group exhibition Arte astratta e concreta organised by Max Bill, Max Huber and Lanfranco Bombelli Tiravanti.
displayed work for the first time at the Venice Biennale, showing three works.
at the 25th Venice Biennale, he presented nine works on the theme of Amalassunta.
confirmed mayor of Monte Vidon Corrado for a second term.
Participated with three works on the theme of Amalassunta in the exhibition Artistas italianos de hoje at the 1st Biennial of the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo, Brazil.
Displayed work in Turin in the exhibition Pittori d’oggi Francia – Italia.
displayed work in the group exhibition Nutida italiensk konst, organised by the Venice Biennale at the Liljevalchs Konsthall in Stockholm.
in Monte Vidon Corrado, he received a visit from the critic Luigi Carluccio, who wanted to organise a retrospective of his work in Turin as part of the exhibition Pittori d’oggi Francia – Italia. He approved Carluccio’s project and lent various works to the show. The show opened in October (the French artist selected for a retrospective was Fernand Léger).
the Centro Culturale Olivetti in Ivrea held a large solo exhibition of his work in February, presented by Marchiori. In the months prior to the opening, he contributed personally to the preparation of the show.
Sixty-two works (from 1921 to 1957) were displayed, as well as numerous paintings from the so-called realist period in the 1920s.
Painted one of his last works, Ritmo.
At the 29th Venice Biennale, he was given a solo room, where forty-three works were displayed (as per the revised third edition of the Biennale catalogue). Umbro Apollonio presented the exhibition and the exhibition design was by Carlo Scarpa.
The jury awarded him the International Grand Prize for painting. In June, he was in Venice with his son, Paolo, for the award ceremony, where he received his prize from the President of the Republic, Giovanni Gronchi.
On 11 October, while the 29th Biennale was still under way, he died at his home in Monte Vidon Corrado.
A selection of post-1958 exhibitions
(list by Lorenzo Licini)
Retrospective at the VIII Quadriennale nazionale d’arte di Roma, Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, December 1959 – April 1960
‘Licini’, Madrid, Sala Santa Catalina, Ateneo de Madrid, 26 April – 14 May
‘Osvaldo Licini’, Turin, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, 23 October 1968 – 6 January 1969
‘Osvaldo Licini’, Bologna, Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, 2 February – 9 March
‘Osvaldo Licini’, Dortmund, Museum am Ostwall, 23 November 1974 – 10 February 1975
‘Licini. Opere dal 1913 al 1957’, Urbino, Palazzo Ducale, Sale del Castellare, July - September
‘Licini’, Venice, Galleria della Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, 21 June – 18 August
‘Osvaldo Licini. Una retrospettiva nel centenario della nascita’, Florence, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, 22 March – 15 May; Milan, Palazzo Reale, 24 June – 2 October
‘Osvaldo Licini: Capolavori’, Turin, GAM – Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, 24 October 2010 – 20 March 2011
‘Jean Arp – Osvaldo Licini’, Lugano, Museo d’Arte Città di Lugano, 13 April – 20 July
"Osvaldo Licini. Let sheer folly sweep me away", Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 22 September 2018 - 14 January 2019