Born in Tuscany, after studying at the Scuola Tecnica di Cortona in 1899 he went to Rome to the Scuola libera del Nudo all’Accademia and attended evening classes in drawing at the Villa Medici. He made friends with Boccioni, Corazzini and Cambellotti who shared his interest in socialist ideas and philosophy. Together with Boccioni, he studied in Giacomo Balla’s studio, and it was he who introduced him to Divisionist techniques. In 1905, after failing to be admitted to the exhibition of the Amatori e Cultori, he and Boccioni organised the ‘Mostra dei Rifuitati’ in the foyer of Teatro Costanzi.
In 1906 Severini was in Paris, where he came into contact with the exponents of the Avant-garde including Modigliani, Juan Gris, Braque and Picasso, as well as the poets Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire and Paul Fort, whose daughter he married in 1913. However he continued to keep in touch with Italy and, encouraged by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, signed the Manifesto of Futurist Art in April 1910, even though he later qualified this by saying he felt close to French theories of separation of colour influenced by Seurat rather than to the ‘aesthetics of the machine’ advocated by Italian Futurism.
In February 1912 he exhibited at the Futurist exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, later at the one in London in 1913. During the same year he set up two personal exhibitions at the Marlborough Gallery, London and at the Der Sturm Gallery, Berlin. At the same time he was interested in Cubist experiments while remaining faithful to a dynamic representation of the subject as his famous figures of dancers demonstrate.
Between 1913 and 1914 Severini and his wife Jeanne Fort lived in Italy but went back to Paris on the outbreak of WWI. His works inspired by the war belong to these years, influenced by Futurist-Cubist ideas, and were exhibited in 1916 in a personal show at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery. This period also marked the start of a scientific method of representation in art, influenced by Ozenfant and by the purism of the Formalists, but in particular he was one of the first to show an interest in reviving the great tradition of the Renaissance and Neo-Classicism as the paintings “Maternità” (Maternity) and “Ritratto di Jeanne” (Portait of Jeanne) illustrate.
In 1919 he signed a contract with the art dealer Parisno Rosemberg and edited the second number of Mario Broglio’s magazine “Valori Plastici” that was entirely devoted to the French scene. In addition he wrote a monograph about Manet in the “Valori Plastici” series on modern art. In 1921 he published the essay “Du cubisme au classicisme”, and the same year he painted a room with frescoes at the castle of Montegufoni in the Tuscan countryside. The subjects of these were completely figurative taken from the “Commedia dell’Arte”, and he applied theories of balance and classical harmony linked with a sense of geometry and mathematics. In 1923 he showed at the Rome Biennial, in 1929 at the second exhibition of the Italian 20th century while he was only shown in the catalogue of the first (1926). In the same period with Jacob, Cocteau and Denis he began to show religious values in art, he painted the churches of Semsales, in the canton of Fribourg, and La Roche with frescoes.
During the 30’s he continued to paint decorative cycles of religious subjects, concentrated on working on stage sets for the “Maggio Musicale Fiorentino” and for the La Fenice in Venice, illustrated texts for his writer friends such as Paul Fort and Paul Valere. He took part in the Rome Quadrennial in 1931 and 1935 and showed in the room for Italian artist in Paris at the Venice Biennial in 1932. In the years that followed he lived between France and Rome. After the war he was acknowledged as being one of the new generations of great artists.
He died in Paris on 26 February 1966.
Written by: Gioela Massagli – Translated by: Catherine Biggerstaff
© Studio d’Arte dell’800