ANTONIO AMBROGIO ALCIATI: Lessons In The Art Of Painting


“Lessons in the art of painting” intends to be both an invitation to revisit one of the most fascinating Italian portrait painters of the XX century – whose work has not been seen in Milan his small retrospective at Palazzo Reale in 1975 – and the belated tribute of the Permanente Society to one of its illustrious members for whom its exhibition halls were, during his life time, the main venue. Antonio Ambrogio Alciati was born in Vercelli (Piedmont) in 1878; after a brief formation at the local art school he was sent to Milan on scholarship to study at the Brera Academy, where he entered the studios of Vespasiano Bignami, Giuseppe Mentessi and Cesare Tallone.

In spite of the difficulties in obtaining certain works and finding the whereabouts of others, the sixty five pieces proposed (paintings and drawings), among which a few are exhibited for the first time, allow for an understanding of both the evolution of the artist from 1899 to 1929 and his creative process. Heir of the Scapigliati in his predilection for figure over all other genres, Alciati grounds his pictorial inventiveness upon an uncanny mastery of drawing and the pursuit of a distinctive balance between color and form. Alciati is a painter of instinct whose virtuosity does not owe anything to theory. Because he prefers indoor lighting to plein air painting and captures the psychology of his sitters in their own private universe (voleur d’âme would say the French ), Alciati belongs fully to this international current of Society Portraitists – too often limited to De Nittis and Boldini, in Italian studies dedicated to the period – which has revolutionized the canons of portraiture. 
In effect, between the end of the nineteenth century and World War I, society portrait has attracted a number of refined masters, innovative in their pictorial language and in their apprehension of the visual phenomenon, who because of their faithfulness to the Academic spirit in their probity toward their crafts, have been ostracized from the pantheon of artists created by that reductive form of art history, concerned only with the “avant gardes”.