Born in Naples, Umberto Prencipe grew up in various cities because of his father’s work as a prison manager. When the family settled in Rome for a short period he studied at the technical college, later, in 1897, enrolling at the Accademia di Belle Arti. In the same period he also studied at the studio of the Russian artist Stepanoff. He studied Classical works of art housed in the museums of Rome and was particularly fond of landscape painting.
In 1904 he made his debut at the Esposizione della Società Amatori e Cultori di Roma with the painting “Ore solenni” (An Important Moment). A year later he exhibited “Clausura” (In the Convent) a work that was well received and was purchased by the State for the “Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna”. A little later Prencipe left Rome to settle in Orvieto where he spent four years working hard mainly on landscapes, his style being more gentle and tranquil.
In 1906 at the exhibition held for the opening of the new Sempione pass, he presented the triptych “Empirismo” (Empirism). In 1912 he sent two water-colours, “Orvieto” and “Nella pace orvietana” (In the Peaceful countryside of Orvieto) at the Venice Biennial, and he set up his own personal exhibition at the Lyceum di Roma. In 1914, still in Venice, he exhibited “Il castello delle cento finestre” (The Castle with a Hundred Windows). From 1913 to 1917 he lived in Lucca, where he taught Engraving at the Istituto di Belle Arti and painted the Apuan and Versilian landscape incessantly. But he did not stop exhibiting: he took part in Secessionist exhibitions in Rome and, in 1914 he opened a personal exhibition in Florence.
In the years following the war he returned to live in Orvieto. In 1922 he showed six works at the “Primaverile fiorentina”: “Tristezza maremmana” (Desolate Maremma landscape), “Borgo toscano” (Tuscan village), “La Versilia”, “Primavera orvietana” (Spring in Orvieto), “Paesaggio etrusco” (Etruscan landscape), “Vespro orvietano” (Early evening in Orvieto). The same year he became one of the founders of the “Gruppo Romano Incisori Artisti” and showed his works at the “Galleria d’Arte di piazza di Spagna”. At the 1923 Turin Quadrennial he exhibited works inspired by the countryside around Lucca, for example, “Giardino lucchese” (Garden in Lucca) and “Profilo lucchese” (Portrait of Lucca).
From 1926 he lived in Rome. In 1927 he won an award through the “Associazione Nazionale Artisti” with “Paesaggio orvietano” (Orvieto landscape); in 1932 he became professor of Engraving at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli, a position that he retained until 1936 when he moved to the Accademia di Roma to teach the same subject. He stayed there until 1949. Umberto Principe’s long career was also marked by prestigious recognition: in 1937 he was elected a member of San Luca and in 1946 virtuoso of the Pantheon; his valuable prints are kept in the Uffizi Gallery. In 1950 the “Calcografia Nazionale” gave him an exhibition where 45 of his works were on show including watercolours and aquatints.
Written by: Gioela Massagli – Translated by: Catherine Biggerstaff
© Studio d’Arte dell’800