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Carlo Carrà (Italian, 1881–1966)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Italian painter, critic and writer. He was apprenticed to a team of decorators at the age of 12, after the death of his mother. His work took him to Milan, London and Switzerland, as well as to the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. He visited museums, and in Milan in 1906 he enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, studying under Cesare Tallone. By 1908 he was arranging shows for the Famiglia Artistica, an exhibiting group. He met Umberto Boccioni and Luigi Russolo, and together they came to know Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and to write the Manifesto dei pittori futuristi (1910; see Futurism). Carrà continued, however, to use the technique of Divisionism despite the radical rhetoric of Futurism. In an attempt to find new inspiration Marinetti sent them to visit Paris in autumn 1911, in preparation for the Futurist exhibition of 1912. Cubism was a revelation, and in 1911 Carrà reworked a large canvas that he had begun in 1910, the Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (New York, MOMA). He had witnessed the riot at the event in 1904. The crowd and the mounted police converge in violently hatched red and black, as Carrà attempted the Futurist aim to place the spectator at the centre of the canvas. In the reworking he attempted to make the space more complex and the lighting appear to emerge from within.

The Paris trip also established personal contacts, with Guillaume Apollinaire, Amedeo Modigliani and Picasso. Carrà returned in 1912 and 1914, punctuated by a year of collaboration with Giovanni Papini’s and Ardegno Soffici’s Florentine periodical Lacerba. Soffici’s close association with Paris may have reinforced Carrà’s intense investigation of Cubism and encouraged him to reconsider the structure of his paintings, leading him to explore collage. In the Interventionist Demonstration (1914; Milan, G. Mattioli priv. col., see M. Carrà, 1967–8, i, p. 259) he combined collage with Marinetti’s words-in-freedom and Apollinaire’s ideograms, creating one of the most memorable Futurist images.

Carrà’s disillusionment with Futurist aims and his intensifying rivalry with Boccioni became apparent from 1915 in paintings that concentrated on the human figure. They owed something to African sculpture and culminated in the Antigrazioso of 1916 (priv. col., see M. Carrà, 1967–8, i, p. 303), in which an awkward figure with a huge head stands on a chequered floor next to a trumpet; in the background a house floats on an ochre ground. These four elements struggle between independence and interdependence, and their lumpy solidity is reminiscent of Giotto’s work, rather than employing Futurist dynamics. Carrà had been reconsidering Giotto in 1915 and 1916, probing the compositional force and the humanity of the people. He published an article on him in 1916 and later a book, and this understanding became the basis of his aesthetic.

Carrà was called-up at the beginning of 1917 and was posted to a unit near Ferrara, where he met Giorgio De Chirico and Alberto Savinio through Soffici. This signalled the beginning of the collaboration between Carrà and De Chirico that gave rise to Pittura Metafisica. Working at the hospital for nervous diseases, Carrà painted the Metaphysical Muse and the Mother and Son (both 1917; Milan, Brera), depicting mannequins derived from those of De Chirico. Despite the similarities, there is an independence from De Chirico: the tonality and colour are restricted; the mannequins are direct in their presentation, factors that indicate his continuing investigation of Giotto’s work.

By winter 1917 Carrà was in Milan, where he held an exhibition. Over the following three years a profound crisis meant that he painted only four canvases, but he continued to draw and to write theoretical articles for Valori plastici, as well as his book Pittura metafisica, propagating the new art. A reconsideration of nature on the Ligurian coast resolved the crisis in 1921. Pine by the Sea (priv. col., see M. Carrà, 1967–8, i, p. 343) is a distillation of four elements isolated against the beach, through which Carrà expressed the substantiality that he found in Giotto’s work, giving weight and solidity to the intervening spaces as well as the objects. He also achieved a unity based on surface composition rather than classical perspective or imitation of nature.

Between 1922 and 1939 Carrà made numerous contributions as art critic to the Milan newspaper L’ambrosiano. During the early 1920s he returned periodically to a metaphysical style, but most of his work was concentrated on the resolution of structure through landscapes and seascapes, and a reassessment of Cézanne, who had been a strong influence since his trips to Paris. He painted several bather compositions, including Summer (1930; Milan, Gal. A. Mod.), blending the earthy and the bold anatomical approaches of Giotto and Cézanne to monumental effect. In 1933 Carrà signed the Manifesto della pittura murale with Mario Sironi, Massimo Campigli and Achille Funi, and in 1936 he applied the monumental style that they advocated in the execution of frescoes (destr.) for the Milan Triennale of decorative arts. His frescoes of 1938 for the Palazzo di Giustizia in Milan (in situ) show a simplicity of colour and line. The number of figures is limited and the style severe. He emphasized the interplay between the solidity of the elements, avoiding the heroic muscularity favoured by the Fascist regime.

Carrà returned to the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera as professor of painting (in 1941). Over the next 20 years his style gradually took on a more scumbled effect with rich combinations of colour, although his subject-matter changed very little, still dominated by particular motifs: the breakwater, the beach cabins, rural landscapes and views of Venice from which figures were excluded.

Matthew Gale
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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