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The Interwar Years, Beyond the “Return to Order”

The vicissitudes of the period stretching through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s produced, in Italy as throughout Europe, a clear-cut phase in the history of modern and contemporary art. Artists came onto the scene who had been born between 1905 and 1920 and so had not participated in more than marginal fashion in the artistic revolution carried out by the historical avant-garde, nor in the subsequent “return to order”. At the same time, older artists who had been more deeply involved in the “return” continued to work, but they too took new paths.
The older of these artists truly fulfilled their artistic intentions during this period, while the younger generations came to full maturity or at least gave the first substantive indications of the directions their artistic quest would take. For old and young alike, the essential intellectual and cultural drive was the rejection of the “return to order”. For experienced artists, this rejection translated above all into a rejection of the dogmatic, closed-minded, celebratory aspects of the Novecento school. One of the key formal consequences was renewed attention to the tonalism expressed in the work of Giorgio Morandi and a more “intimate” emotionalism. For the younger, refusal translated into a sweeping claim of freedom from any kind of “ism” with an explicit programme, like the “manifestos” of the avant-gardes and the Novecento school.
From France, where the second generation of Surrealists, among them Alberto Giacometti, came to the fore together with such new figurative artists as Balthus, to Germany, where the various attempts to found a new type of realism involved not only a historic figure like Otto Dix but also the “magical realism” of Christian Schad and Franz Radziwill, Europe offered a full range of alternatives. The protagonists in this phase revisited the past – including the recent past of the avant-garde – in the light of their radical search for new forms of expression.
In a milieu that had been liberated, freed from excessive programmatic prescriptions, the reciprocal contamination of artistic languages became an important theme. The situation in Italy also reflected the new intellectual climate, and the Bank of Italy’s collection offers a fair selection of works from some of the leading artists of this lively period: older painters such as Francesco Trombadori and Riccardo Francalancia, on the cusp, so to speak, of the “return to order” and the new milieu; Antonio Donghi, Italy’s own “magical realist”; such singular, evident outsiders as Luigi Bartolini and Renato Paresce; Carlo Levi and Roberto Melli; and the fertile artistic community of the nation’s capital, in and around the Roman School grouping such artists as Fausto Pirandello, Mario Mafai, Alberto Ziveri and Giovanni Stradone, each of whom exemplified a significant strand of interwar painting.

Antonio Del Guercio