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Giovanni Segantini: return to Milan. Interview to Pietro Bellasi

Starting from September the 18th the art of Giovanni Segantini will be in the halls of Palazzo Reale (Milan). Waiting for the event, we met Pietro Bellasi, art sociologist, curator at the Mazzotta Foundation and connoisseur of the Segantini’s art. For the Milan art exhibition, the expert has written one of the three catalog essays; in the following interview, Bellasi tells us about the exhibition, Segantini’s life and his relationship with the mountain.

How was the art exhibition born? Which role did you have?

«The art exhibition came to the Beyeler Foundation of Basel in 2011. At that time, the curators were Diana Segantini – granddaughter and keeper of the artist archive – and Guido Magnaguagno, an internationally renowned art critic who led for many years the Tinguely Museum. The exhibit was brought to Milan thank to the interest of  Skira Editor and the Mazzotta Foundation, with curators as Diana Segantini and Annie-Paul Quinsac, a great Segantini expert. I was asked to write an essay in which address the issue of the relationship between Segantini and the mountain environment ».

How is the exhibition organized? What are its qualities?

«On the desire to Prof. Quinsac, the exhibition was organized by themes. Among the addressed thematic areas, great space has been given to the self portraits and the portraits in which it is possible to grasp the stylistic evolution of Segantini. The self portraits and the portraits are introductory to the later great landscapes».

Segantini had a turbolent youth, is there an anecdote that you want to remember?

«It is possible to remember a lot of different events of Segantini’s dramatic childhood. He was born after a troubled delivery, so that it was reported on the births register as “ob periculum vitae”. In his early childhood, one of his brothers died in a fire. When he was 7 years old, his mother died and he was taken by force to Milan. Next, his father died. At 8 years old, as an orphan he was a guest of his stepsister Irene, who holds him prisoner enough to cause him to flee many times. A fact that few people know, he was arrested for vagrancy at the age of 12 and he was placed in a correctional institution, from which however he escaped. After this troubled childhood, many beautiful moment came, even though all his life he suffered economic hardship».

Which is the relationship between Segantini the alpine environment?

«Many artists, as well as Segantini, sought in the mountain naturalness, a life undisturbed by modernity and something original. Mountain nature – related to plants, animals and humans – is represented by the artist in his primitive aspect. The nature of the alpine environment is preserved as original and that is how it is painted: bright according to the divisionism and supernatural-allegorical following the symbolist suggestions».

Where did he elaborate this relationship with the mountains?

«In Val Bregaglia, an enchanted valley on the border between Italy and Switzerland which attracted many great artists who love the alpine charm of that environment: the Giacomettis, Cuno Amiet, Ferdinand Hodler, Max Ernst, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sils Maria, Friederich Nietzsche. Among them, Giovanni Segantini formed a deep friendship with Giovanni Giacometti, father of the more famous Alberto. Giovanni Giacometti was his greatest friend and the first person to see (and portray) Segantini on his deathbed. Giacometti also dedicated him a painting entitled “The two mothers”. You can admire this work to the exhibition in Milan».

Why is Segantini interesting to show?

«Because he is one of the most brilliant and modern interpreters of the mountains in art. Segantini in fact, despite its isolation, followed carefully everything that happened in the European art and, not coincidentally, he adopted symbolism and the divisionism, two styles to represent the Alpine world, made of rarefied atmospheres, hallucinatory visions and blinding lights. It is also interesting the representation of mountain person, depicted as exemplary and genuine person, not corrupted by the urban world. It is then obvious Segantini’s love for nature and the mountain, considered purifying and regenerating from the city industry and the alienation. I find that this feeling, present in so many of his contemporaries such as Ruskin and Turner, is still very present».

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