Having just opened its doors at Palazzo Reale , ‘The Return to Milan’ presents over 100 works by the artist Giovanni Segantini, documenting his first steps as a sought after artist, through to his on-the-move living with life-lover Bice to his final pilgrimage days in the mountains of Switzerland.
Born 1858 in the County of Tyrol of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this artist’s start in life was most certainly not the easiest. By the age of seven, he had lost both his parents, left to be raised in extreme poverty by his half-sister Irene, who, thanks to a blunder with citizenship applications, left both of them stateless which they remained for the rest of their lives.
At the age of seven, Segantini ran away from home, opting to live on the streets of Milan where he was found by police and sent to the Marchiondi Reformatory to be raised. It was here that he developed an interest in sketching, later to be fueled by his half-brother’s flair with photography that collected him from the Reformatory in 1873 to live with him in Trentino. A year later he enrolled at the Brera Academy, after which his first major painting ‘The Chancel of Saint Antonio’, completed in 1879, was applauded and acquired by Milan’s Societa per le Belle Arti.
It was this particular work that caught the attention gallery owner Vittore Grubicy de Dragon, who became the Segantini’s advisor, dealer and financial supporter. This relationship also brought Bice, into the equation that became his partner until his death in 1899. They could not marry due to his stateless existence, but they chose to live together regardless of this. This was frowned upon by the Catholic Church, forcing them to relocate every few years to avoid condemnation and hassle. The life they chose led them on a path that took them higher into the mountains, influencing Segantini’s greatest works, using the Divisionist painting technique that thrilled audiences and, later, delving into the concept of Symbolism.
It is this latter concept that closes the retrospective at Palazzo Reale, tracing his development from his first realist works created in Milan through to application of symbolism and his use of allegory.
With over 100 works on show, ‘The Return to Milan’ can’t be missed.
It closes January 18, 2015