Renato Guttuso (26 December 1911 – 18 January 1987) was an Italian painter.
His best-known paintings include Flight from Etna (1938–39), Crucifixion (1941) and La Vucciria (1974). Guttuso also designed for the theatre (including sets and costumes for Histoire du Soldat, Rome, 1940) and did illustrations for books. Those for Elizabeth David’s Italian Food (1954), introduced him to many in the English-speaking world. A fierce anti-Fascist, "he developed out of Expressionism and the harsh light of his native land to paint landscapes and social commentary."
He was born in Bagheria, near Palermo in Sicily, but from 1937 lived and worked largely in Rome. An anti-fascist, he joined the banned Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1940 and left Rome to become an active participant in the partisan struggle from 1943. He was also an opponent to the Mafia. In 1972 Guttuso was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. In 1976 he was elected to the Italian Senate as a PCI representative for the Sicilian constituency of Sciacca.
Renato Guttuso's father, Gioacchino Guttuso, was a land surveyor and there are many portraits of him in the collection donated to the mayor of Bagheria. The precocious capabilities of the artist are apparent from the very first paintings from 1925.
His bourgeois adolescence offered him plenty of stimuli. Guttuso lived close to a house amongst the Valguarnera villas and Palagonia, which he would soon represent in paintings inspired by the cliffs of Aspra.
In Palermo and in the same Bagheria he saw the complete ruin of the nobility of the splendid villas of the 18th century, abandoned to urban decay as a consequence of political infighting within the municipal chambers. At the same time, his family suffered a period of economic stress because of the hostility shown by Fascists and clergy towards his father.
He went to Palermo for high school studies, and then to the University, where his development was modelled on the European figurative trends of the day, from Courbet to Van Gogh and to Picasso. His works opened to doors for him in Milan and to further travel throughout Europe.
As his expressionism became stronger we notice scenes of nature in flower, the lemon trees, the saracen olive trees, all in an environment suspended between myth and island insularity, that, when sent to the Quadriennale expo of 1931, he joined a collective of six Siciilian painters, acclaimed by the critic Franco Grasso as a "disclosure, a Sicilian affirmation".
Back in Palermo he opened a studio in Pisani street and together with the painter Lia Pasqualino and the sculptors Barbera and Nino Franchina, formed the Gruppo dei Quattro ("The Group of Four").
He rejected every academic canon, putting free figures in space and searching for the pure sense of color. Guttuso joined the artistic movement "Corrente", which stood for free and open attitudes, in opposition to the official culture, and chose a strong anti-fascist position in the thematic choices through the years of the Spanish Civil War.
During a stay of three years in Milan, where he entered the cultural circle of Corrente di Vita, Guttuso developed his "social" art, which highlighted a moral and political commitment visible in paintings like Fucilazione in Campagna (1938), dedicated to the writer García Lorca, and Escape from Etna.
Moving to Rome, he opened a study in Via Margutta where, because of his natural exhuberance, his friend Marino Mazzacurati nicknamed him "Unbridled". He lived close by to the significative artists of the time: Mario Mafai, Corrado Cagli, Antonello Trombadori, keeping also in contact with the group from Milan of Giacomo Manzù and Aligi Sassu.
The controversial painting for which he is best remembered, at the time derided by the clergy and the fascists because it denounced the horrors of the war under a religious cover, is Crocifissione ("Crucifixion"). Guttuso wrote in his diary: "it is the symbol of all those who endure insults, jail, torture for their ideas".
He did not stop working during the years of World War II, his work ranging from landscape glimpses of the Gulf of Palermo to a collection of drawings entitled Massacri ("Massacres"), that clandestinely denounced slaughters such as the Fosse Ardeatine.
In those years he met and married Mimise, who would become his confidant and faithful spouse, and model as well. After the liberation of Italy from Nazi Germans he finished Muratori in riposo ("Workers resting"), china ink and watercolor of 1945, a symbol of rebirth of which Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote in 1962:
"The shapes of ten workers
emerge white over white masonry
the noon is that of the summer.
But the humiliated flesh
projects a shadow; is the disarranged order
of the white colors, that is faithfully followed
by the black ones. The noon is a peaceful one".
Then he painted Peasant Who Hoe (1947) and Peasants of Sicily (1951) in which the pictorical language became clear and free of all superfluous elements. Guttuso wrote that those were preparatory sketches for Occupation of uncultivated lands of Sicily, exhibited in the Venice Biennale in 1950, asserting:
“ I believe that these are legacies to my deeper and remote inspiration. To my childhood, to my people, my peasants, my father land-surveyor, the garden of lemons and oranges, to the gardens of the latifund familiar to my eye and my feeling, where I was born. Sicilian peasants who hold the primary position in my heart, because I am one of them, whose faces come in front of my eyes no matter what I do, Sicilian peasants so important in the history of Italy... ”
In 1950, Guttuso joined the project of the Verzocchi collection (in the civic Pinacoteca of Forlì), sending, a self-portrait, and the work "sicilian labourer".
He succeeded in astonishing his audience, alternating between the luminous and full vision of color of Bagheria on the Gulf of Palermo to the Battle of the Bridge of the Admiral, in which he depicted his grandfather Ciro as a Garibaldine soldier. He painted also a series from live about the fights of peasants for the occupation of lands, the zolfatari, or glimpses of landscape between cactus and prickly pears, as well as portraits of men of culture like Nino Garajo and Bruno Caruso.
Fascinated by Dante's model, in 1961 he made a series of color drawings, published in 1970, as Il Dante di Guttuso, depicting the characters of Hell as examples of human history, confirming the versatility of his talent.
In the late 1960s and 1970s he completed a suite of paintings devoted to the feminine figure, a motif that became as dominant in his painting as it was in his life: Donne stanze paesaggi, oggetti (1967) was followed by a series of portraits of Marta Marzotto, his preferred muse of many years.
His most famous "palermitano" painting is the Vucciria (the name of Palermo's market), in which, with raw and bloody realism, he expressed one of the many spirits of the Sicilian city.
Guttuso died in Rome at the age of 75.
After the death of his wife, he reconciled with the Christian faith with which he had been critical and donated many of his works to his hometown Bagheria, now housed in the museum of the Villa Cattolica.
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