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Felice Casorati Returns to Order

Words:

Edd Norval
October 12, 2020

There were many artistic reactions to global wars. There was the sheer absurdity of the situation being taken to a logical conclusion in Dadaism after the First World War, to the celebration of consumer culture in Pop Art after the Second. Italy’s Felice Casorati instead interpreted the postwar moment in a different way, striving for a ‘normal’ and ‘correct’ type of art that set right the chaos of the previous several years.

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Having began life on the path to become a pianist, then a lawyer, his upbringing and opportunities at a time when Italy was still experiencing large gaps in wealth and development are indicative of the social strata he belonged to. Fairly wealthy, educated and the potential for further upward mobility. Art in Italy has always been interwoven into their society's upper echelons, not associated with being as risky a career choice as in other parts of the world. 


Despite his opportunities in education, it was art that truly fascinated the young Casorati and it was art where he clearly shone. In 1907, an early piece of his was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. Continuing on his trajectory of development, it was put on momentary hiatus as the Italian was drafted for military service, cut short by the death of his father in 1917, before he and his family moved to Turin the following year. 


There was an atmosphere in Turin that attracted him, something he described as, “decadent”, with “sinister views”. A chilling description that seems befitting of his art which was largely polarizing, characterised by the growing movement towards ‘return to order’ art, rejecting the avante-garde in favour of a more precise and academic style.

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Championed by Italian magazine Valori Plastici, who revered aesthetic ideals, eschewing the excess and experimentalism characterising other pre- and post-war movements. Casorati became something of a hero in this milieu. Critics called his work cold. It was. That was a great part of the point. Emotion was almost stripped out of the art entirely. Paradoxically, though, his paintings were almost so focussed on various compositions of realism that they took on a degree of unreality - a typifying feature of his paintings.


A driving force in the revival of classicism, Casorati’s works actually had far more in common with the metaphysical artists. His colours and compositions coming from within, as the artist described it, rather than capturing an impression of something externally natural. They were entirely based in reality, just not the way most paintings usually are. His colours never seemed to be quite ‘right’, the compositions so over-composed that they lost their grounding.


Yet, these oddities are the very things that made them so original. Casorati’s palette eventually grew lighter with age, when he opened up his studio and gave his legacy a second wind, not as an artist this time, but as a teacher. His influence can be felt in many contemporary Italian artists, many of whom drew on the philosophical principles of his art, ensuring the lineage of classical Italian art never dips out of history at any single moment.

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