Oscar Ghiglia was born in Leghorn in 1876. Following his father’s death, he spent his adolescence working part time for a low wage. From the end of the 90’s he studied at the ateliers of Manaresi and Guglielmo Micheli where he made lasting friendships with Llewelyn Lloyd, Anthony De Witt and Modigliani. The prolific correspondence between Ghiglia and Modì in 1901, during the latter’s trips to Capri and Venice, bear witness to their close friendship and their mutual desire to escape from the restrictions of the cultural scene of Leghorn.

Encouraged by Giovanni Fattori, in 1900 Ghiglia decided to enrol at the Scuola Libera del Nudo. In 1901 Ghiglia made his debut at the Venice International Exhibition with a Self Portrait. This was followed by exhibitions at the “Primaverile Fiorentina” (1903) and again at the Biennial (1903) where he impressed critics with the uneasy ‘Ritratto’ (Portrait). In 1904 he exhibited at the Secession at Palazzo Corsini winning over critics and public alike.

Florentine circles at the beginning of the century were intellectually stimulating and this enabled Ghiglia to meet the “Leonardo” magazine group, (Papini, Ojetti, Ardengo Soffici) and, through Costetti and Cimento, study the Symbolist themes of Bocklin and Von Stuck in great depth. It was thanks to Soffici, who had returned from Paris in 1903, that Ghiglia became interested in the French Neo-traditionalists such as Vallotton, Vuillard and Denis, (that he had already seen at the exhibitions of the French artists at Venice between 1905 and 1907). They were to influence his style between 1906 and 1911, with very bright colour, spread over simplified backgrounds defined by sharp outlines – “Donna che scrive” (Woman Writing), 1908, “Camicia bianca” (The White Shirt), 1909, “La signora Ojetti al piano” (Signora Ojetti at the piano), 1910 -. The decisive meeting with Gustavo Sforni took place in 1909. He was a collector of paintings by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Degas, Utrillo and Fattori, a painter in his own right and, for many years, Ghiglia’s patron. It was through Sforni that Ghiglia was able to study Cézanne’s work in detail and to gradually blend the Tuscan “macchia” and the geometric pictorial structure of Cézanne – “Anfora e zucca” (Amphora and Pumpkin), 1912-13; “La sedia rossa” (The Red Chair), 1913; “Sforni e Ghiglia”, 1914 -.

With the First Romagnola Biennial of Art held at Faenza in 1908, Ghiglia practically stopped exhibiting and was only to start exhibiting regularly again in the 20’s. In 1914 he returned home to Castiglioncello where, whilst not abandoning portrait painting (executed mainly in the early 20th century) he increasingly concentrated on interiors and still lives and experimented with that charming rich colour scheme – “Natura morta con violino, brocca e frutta” (Still Life with Violin, Jug and Fruit), 1915 – that led to him being compared with the Swedish artist Larssen.

Gradually, Ghiglia turned his back on traditional canons of art and this decision, whilst not marring his relations with the critics, led to there being less demand for his work and worse financial problems. In 1920 he took part in the collective exhibition “Arte Italiana Contemporanea” organised by Ugo Ojetti at the Pesaro Gallery in Milan. In 1926 he exhibited at the historic “Prima Mostra del Novecento Italiano”. The last part of his life was spent increasingly in solitude concentrating on painting with increasingly sophisticated and intimate tones.

He died in Florence in 1945.

Written by: Gioela Massagli – Translated by: Catherine Biggerstaff

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