Lorenzo Viani spent his childhood at the Royal Villa in Viareggio, where his father was employed by Don Carlos of Bourbon. The Viani’s economic situation was comfortable as long as the father continued to work for Don Carlos. Lorenzo attended only the first three grades of elementary school. The boy was not easily biddable and yet introspective. He preferred spending his time walking on the beach or in the woods.

When his father lost his job, the family fell upon hard times. Young Lorenzo was familiar with poverty since his peregrinations through the most destitute neighborhoods of Viareggio had left a deep impression upon his spirit. In 1893 he was put to work as a helper in Fortunato Primo Puccini’s barbershop , where he remained for several years. Working for Puccini’s shop brought Lorenzo into daily contact with people from all walks of life and these encounters were a sort of “education in human anatomy”. He wrote: “Before drawing these unkempt faces, I had to handle them with my hands”. As a result, Lorenzo’s training was totally personal and independent from any traditional schooling.

After he met Plinio Nomellini in Puccini’s barbershop, the painter encouraged him to enroll at the Institute of Fine Arts in Lucca. Viani attended classes there for about three years, from 1900 to 1903; at the Institute he met Moses Levy. During his years in Lucca, Lorenzo became involved in politics, and together with other anarchists he was arrested and imprisoned. In 1904 he was accepted at the Free School for Drawing Nudes at the Academy of Fine Arts; he also started to go to Giovanni Fattori’s studio, having met him in 1901, thanks to Nomellini’s introduction. His months spent in Florence were very stimulating for Viani, especially because of the many acquaintances he made.

After returning to Viareggio, he took up residence in Torre del Lago and became a member of the “Bohème Club.” In 1907 he spent a few months in Genoa and exhibited a handful of drawings at the Venice Biennial. He also traveled to Paris, where he spent a little over a year (January 1908-spring 1909). His long-coveted Parisian visit turned out to be filled with economic difficulties and loneliness, and yet it also proved to be very rewarding because of the experiences he had and the acquaintances he made. Between 1911 and 1915 Viani was busy working and traveling to his solo shows in many Italian cities. He served in World War I from 1916 to 1919, years in which, despite his lack of free time, he managed to draw, paint and illustrate incessantly.

On March 2, 1919, he married Giulia Giorgietti and moved to Montecatini, where his wife was an elementary school teacher. His tender portraits of children busy studying and writing belong to this period. After two years, the couple returned to Viareggio. From 1920 to 1922 Viani regularly exhibited his work in Bologna, Lucca and Rome, started writing again and also worked on the Viareggio War Memorial, which was unveiled in July 1927. In 1924 Viani moved to Fossa dell’Abate (today’s Lido di Camaiore) where his son Franco was born the following year, after which Lorenzo left again for Paris.

In 1928 he suffered the first of many asthma attacks that would plague him with varying degrees of severity for the rest of his life. This was a happy time for Viani in terms of his career: he was well known all over Italy and his exhibits became a magnet for learned and international art lovers. In 1933 he spent a long period of time in the psychiatric hospital of Nozano, near Lucca, after a serious bout of asthma. Throughout these dark months of pain and suffering Viani continued his work, producing an abundance of drawings: the mental patients attracted him just as the poor people of Viareggio had. They were marginalized human beings who lived in a state of total unconsciousness, without any possibility of appeal: their mental illness made them forgotten and defenseless, and thus worthy of special attention.

In 1936 he was commissioned to do a series of paintings for Ostia College. After many days of incessant work he was unable to attend the inauguration and died from a severe attack of asthma on November 2, 1936.

Written by : Cecilia Iacopetti – Translated by: Paola Ludovici and Nanette Cooper

© Studio d’Arte dell’800