Brazilian artist Volpi first retrospective in Monaco brings explosion of color and poetry to the white walls of Villa Paloma

The Nouveau Musee National de Monaco honors legendary painter

The Nouveau Musee National de Monaco (NMNM) hosted a Press Conference yesterday, lead by the passionate and enthusiastic curator Cristiano Raimondi, who unveiled the very first ambitious retrospective in a public institution outside Brazil, of legendary painter Alfredo Volpi.(Photo insert: Cristiano Raymondi @CelinaLafuentedeLavotha)

From February 9 through May 20, 2018, at Villa Paloma (56 Bv du Jardin Exotique in Monaco), this colorful and highly poetic exposition is open to the public, who will be able to admire the prolific work of this major Brazilian artist born in Lucca (Italy) in 1896 and who moved with his family to São Paulo’s when he was only 2 years old, and where he stayed all through his modest and simple life, until he passed away in 1988. As immigrants Volpi and his family settled in an impoverished  Italian neighborhood of Sao Paulo, so he never lost his Tuscan accent, but his heart beat at the rhythm of Brazil, the country that welcomed and veneers him.

This exhibition is made possible thanks to the close collaboration of Pedro Mastrobuono, President of the Institute of Modern Art Alfredo Volpi. His father, Marco Antonio Mastrobuono, was an intimate friend of Alfredo Volpi in his most productive era. His passion for the work of the artist is well known in the art world and is the engine behind an incredible collection. Marco Antonio’s love of painting was passed to his children, and Pedro followed in his footsteps managing the Mastrobuono Collection. Through this comprehensive exhibition the NMNM succeeds in giving Alfredo Volpi the international recognition he deserves.

An artist of modest life who became a legend

Alfredo Volpi trained as a woodcarver and bookbinder from an early age and later began working as a commercial artist, assisting a wall painter and decorating the houses of the wealthy families of São Paulo. This way he learned the finest techniques, while earning money to support himself and develop his artistic skills, away from academic guidelines and rules, thus enhancing his own imagination.

It was only during Volpi’s last decade of his life that he became aware of the important recognition avid collectors gave to his work, as it happens with many artists whose works are not noticed and valued in their time, only to become famous after their death. No one is a prophet in their own land, but Volpi is now the most beloved Brazilian artist of the 20th century, with collectors paying really high prices for his coveted masterpieces, even if he remained little known outside Latin America until now. Volpi turned into a legend in Brazil, remaining as an isolated figure midway between modernism, concrete and neo-concrete movements in that country. His unique and universal language must be considered a collective cultural and visual heritage, another positive example in the history of immigration.

Despite the great success that he attained over last three decades of his life, the story of Volpi is one of a simple, reserved man devoted entirely to his work, and one who never forgot his humble origins. A man who every day, until the age of 88, would build his own frames and stretch the linen over them for his paintings, meticulously preparing the pigments and earths to create the magic of color. What today seems incredible is that so few people in Europe and the US know anything about his life and achievements: his works have never been exhibited institutionally as solo shows in Europe, except for his presence as an invited artist at the Venice Biennale of 1952 and 1964 or a handful of commercial exhibitions.

Volpi paints Volpi – The Flag Painter

It was Willys de Castro who said: “Volpi paints Volpi”, recognizing the potential of the modernity of popular art and creating a unique synthesis between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, and between fine and naïve art. Popular art allowed Volpi to find a timeless and universal shape, far from European transcendent rationality and North American empirics.

As a byproduct of his progressively geometric configurations during the 40’s and 50’s, Volpi distanced himself from landscape in favor of formalism, so after a decade of facades, the bandeirinhas (small flags typical of popular festive motifs) inundated his paintings what deserved him the name of the “Flag painter”.

A voyage through the decades & Volpi’s source of inspiration

The NMNM is proud to present this retrospective of 70 works of art: from the first oil on canvas (country or urban landscapes of the 30s and 40s) up to works from the 50s, 60s and 70s with the artist new palette of colors and pictorial techniques. The exhibition backtracks Volpi’s professional life, from his early oil paintings of landscapes and cityscapes in the 40s, to his works during the following decades in which the same subjects evolve into colorful geometric configurations. This autodidact painter transfers onto the canvas his imaginary prototypes of buildings façades and festive banners, with a humble and poetic formula that allows him to make unlimited color variations on the same subject.

1940’s

1950’s

1960’s

1970’s

Volpi was an independent artist, whose fascination for the Italian early Renaissance, for Matisse, Morandi and the sphere of popular culture led him to win the Best National Prize at the 2nd São Paolo Biennale with ‘Di Cavalcanti’, and intrigued the celebrated English critic Herbert Read, who described him as an artist “… aware of the general movement, but who created something contemporary with an indigenous theme: the shapes and colors of Brazilian modern architecture.” (Photo insert: Announcement of winners of the II Bienal de Sao Paulo @NMNM)

By the end of the ’40s, cityscapes and seascapes that he had started depicting in the 1910s had developed into drawings of the front of buildings and series of festive banners, being inspired by the working class area around him, that served him as real life model and muse. Experience and observation are the most important aspects of the creative process: a direct experience transposed through the sole use of memory of the pictorial space.

Volpi was always unconcerned about academic methodology and doctrines, detached from the cutting edge of his time. He was probably influenced by friends who were celebrated artists like Emygdio de Souza and Ernesto de Fiori influencing him to adopt a certain modernist style, as well as his participation in the Santa Helena artists’ group, but it was his direct experience of the works of other great European artists exhibited in Brazil throughout the ’40s that ended up becoming an incenting for his formal solutions and space organization.

During the ’40s, from Paul Cezanne to Henri Matisse, from Mario Sironi and Carlo Carrà to Giorgio Morandi, Alfredo Volpi would learn how to remodel the pictorial space, and as Lorenzo Mammi wrote, “those new poetic coordinates oblige Volpi to modify his media. The transition from oil to tempera allows the movement of the brushstroke to be now a visible and constitutive element of his paintings, granting at the same time the absolute value of the color independently from the light and texture; in other words, it allows conciliating Morandi with Matisse.”

Exhibition’s catalogue

A catalogue co-published by Capivara Editora and Mousse Publishing gathering texts from Lorenzo Mammi, Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, Cristiano Raimondi will be released around the end of April in French and English.

Today’s Quote

“Creativity takes courage.” Henri Matisse

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