Carlo Wostry was born in Trieste on February 18, 1865. His father was Irish and his mother, Virginia Artelli, came from an old prominent Venetian family. From 1882 to 1885, he was at Vienna’s Fine Arts Academy, studying portraiture under solid masters like Franz von Leinbach. He then moved to the Academy in Munich. In Bavaria he would become friends with Isidoro Grünhut, Edoardo Variano, Riccardo Carniel, Vittorio Güttner and Umberto Veruda, leading a true vie bohémienne later described in his Storia del Circolo Artistico. The key event of this period was his encounter with Lieberman and all of German Impressionism.
He returned to Trieste in 1887 and exhibited his first important work, the Via Crucis, later installed in the Jesuit Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. In these years, Trieste was a vibrant artistic milieu, rich in cultural encounters and Wostry became a leading figure in art circles there, exhibiting frequently both in Italy and abroad. In 1887 received the Cecilia de Rittmeyer Prize, a bursary for two years of residence in Rome. However, a serious problem with his left eye forced him to give up Rome. This signalled the beginning of a restless seeking of new experiences and new accomplishments which would lead him to new countries and new cultures for the remainder of his life.
He exhibited in Barcelona, lived three years in Budapest, and spent time in the Orient and in Russia, where he acquired a taste for exoticism, paralleling Mariano Fortuny’s experience. In 1896 he began a seven-year sojourn in Paris, painting, illustrating all sorts of publications, writing articles for European reviews, but working primarily for Le Figaro Illustré. In 1897 he painted Christ and Mary Magdalen for the Church of St. Rocco in Paris, in 1900 the Martyrdom of St. Just for the Trieste Cathedral, and in 1902, after a brief stay in London, a number of works inspired by 18th Century English painting including the Scena Boschereccia, now hanging in the Civico Museo Revoltella. Back in France once more, he spent time in locations then popular with artists, and especially in Trouville sur Mer and in Deauville in Normandy, where he painted the magnificent beaches familiar to Proust, Courbet, Boudin and Whistler.
Thinker, enthusiast and eclectic artist, Wostry worked in graphics, engraving, woodcuts, sculpture (using wood and painted papier maché as in the 18th Century), and as a coin designer, decorator and designer of graphics for advertising. Returning to Trieste he exhibited in major exhibitions like the Biennale di Venezia (in 1907, 1910, and later in 1920, 1922, 1924 and 1935). He was very busy but still traveled to Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Augusta, and Serbia. In 1916 he was appointed Professor of Painting at the Industrial Institute of Trieste. After Word War he continued to follow his many interests, but increasingly dedicated himself to sacred art. He designed sketches for the Church of St. Vincent De Paul (where, between 1924 and 1925, he painted the Compianto di Cristo fresco as well as the Apoteosi della Fede servita dalla Penitenza e dalla Carità), and for the churches of San Giusto, Sant’ Antonio Nuovo at Trieste, and of San Francesco at Ravenna.
In 1926 he left for the United States where he stayed long and travelled widely, from New York to Washington and Chicago, and to California, Colorado and Florida. He mounted shows for galleries and decorated the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, in New York, with ten paintings on the life of the Virgin. In San Francisco and Hollywood, he painted film stars and sports heroes, and in Los Angeles decorated the walls of the Church of the Precious Blood of Jesus and casino ceilings. In Miami he decorated private homes and theatres, and for the Church of the Holy Sacrament he created the model for the main altar with a statuary group of the Communion of Saint John. From 1930 to 1937 he was at work on decoration of St. Andrew’s Church in Pasadena, California, designed by the architect Ross Montgomery, and obtained permission to finish the panels in Trieste. Back in Italy, he continued working intensely as a painter and organized a retrospective show of his youthful work. He also completed decoration of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Cordenons with a series of twelve large canvasses portraying the saints.
Carlo Wostry died in Trieste on March 10, 1943.
Written by: Chiara Guidi – Translated by: Paola Ludovici and Nanette Cooper
© Studio d’Arte dell’800