Friesland’s art and the new naturalism

I have been interested in several times Donato Frisia (Merate, August 30, 1883 – Merate, December 13, 1953) and his works, on occasions that moved the historical Ponte Rosso Gallery in Milan in via Brera, aware of many Italian and Lombard artists who lived in the years between the end of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Among these figure of Donato Frisia, Lombard artist active in the first half of the twentieth century; appreciated by artists like Braque or Amedeo Modigliani who dedicated five portraits to him. From 1905 he studied at the Brera Academy, sculpture (E. Butti), painting (C. Talone), architecture (C. Boito). In 1910 at Permanente in Milan he exhibited “Il cellista cieco” (1909), which was appreciated by Previati, Morbelli and V. Grubicy. In 1914 he participated for the first time in the Venice Biennale, where he exhibited continuously until 1950.

Donato Frisia, another Utrillo

“If Donato Frisia had been born in Paris, Europe today would have a different Utrillo”, stressed the author Ivo Senesi in 1950; “Unfortunately, Italy, this inexhaustible nursery of artists, is like this: that just today, abroad, we are beginning to know that our nineteenth century had some great master painters.” Without neglecting what Mario Radice argued years later, commenting bitterly: “If Friesland had he been born and raised in Paris, his name would probably be known in the international market. He was born and raised in this blessed Italy of today, where the best artists, with very few exceptions, are honored only after death. ”

A work by Donato Frisia

Frisia saw abstract research as an absurd form of conjecture: to be able to overcome the magic of reality. “The beauty of truth”, this was his creed. A deeply rooted faith that always kept him firmly rooted in the real picture. “Art is a creation of love”, he wrote. And it’s true, you can invent the truth: you just have to know how to look at it. This very original “true” can be found in all the works of Donato Frisia, in the portraits, in the landscapes, in the fresh scenes of children eager to play; his palette has stopped moments of life, friendships, interactions with Brianza nature, summer vacations between the sun and the evening hours sprinkled by the wind.

Donato Frisia, Giotto, Tintoretto, Canova and Tiziano

There is a job that is very dear to me, and that is it “Children by the sea”, an oil on canvas pasted on 35 x 45 cm cardboard, duly signed at the bottom right; work that in the planning made the Lombard artist write: “I would like to paint a painting with Giotto’s originality and his natural ingenuity. I want to paint it in a moment of life, just like Tintoretto. I want to knock it deep as the color is in titian. And I want to put all that dullness and tenderness and finesse into caressing Canova’s line.: we read this explicit statement of work by Donato Frisia in his notebook, a diary in which every step of his profession as a painter is measured.

Children by the Sea, Donato Frisia
Children by the Sea, Donato Frisia

Two pairs of children, the first in the foreground with a small sailing ship, the second, portrayed in the background, walk towards the shoreline, raise frothy splashes of water, play among the rippling waves with absolute ease. This is a work where, as he wrote Raffaele de Grada (1906), “appears Frisia’s abbreviated technique, which compared to the Lombard artists of the nineteenth century won with the solidity of the contour, with the abolition of the nuance and above all with a light color, made of parallel spots but formed in its entirety “. The thematic cores of Frisia’s work seem unique: the theme of landscape, still life and portrait.

Among the various works, one should remember an ink copy on paper of the magnificent Transfiguration of Raphael in the Vatican Museums which the author created in 1902 in Rome, where he fled while still a minor to pursue a career as a painter. No less suggestive are the self-portraits, including what the author made two days before his death. Among the family portraits, his wife Maria stands out (the marriage to Maria Galli dates back to 1913, of which five children were born, Bruno, Costanza, Emilio, Lucia and Luisa), who in 1940 won the famous “Bergamo Prize”. “, or the whole Frisia family gathered in front of the radio during the announcement of the birth of the fascist empire. decided to stop using oil on canvas, after his travels to Paris, Malta, Benghazi and Istanbul.

Donato Frisia and friends: Bucci, Carpi, Modigliani, Picasso

Let us not forget the many pencil and watercolor drawings, which above all depicts children and young people – the beautiful girl portrayed and today in the collection of the Berardi Gallery in Rome – a subject that is much loved by the painter. Donato Frisia has, as we said before, marked his own stylistic research through the study of life, together with the teachings of Cesare Tallones and Emilio Gola and the important friendships with famous artists, such as Anselmo Bucci, Aldo Carpi, Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso, which he talked to and constantly confronted. Free artist, it must be emphasized well, because he never joined the avant-garde or even the “Novecento” group, choosing and developing his own language, linked to a renewed vision of Lombard naturalism.

A work by Donato Frisia
A work by Donato Frisia

From the 1930s, his house was visited by well-known artists such as U. Lilloni, A. Savinio, E. Treccani, B. Cassinari, E. Morlotti, and in these contacts he had between artists who were differently oriented in art, he measures. The historical role of the Brianza painter. He was among the followers of Bergamo Prize and he participated in all four editions of the review (1939-1942); in 1940 he won the second prize – the first went to Mafai, and the third to R. Guttuso – which was awarded to him, as we well remember, by a jury with Carrà, Rosai and GC Argan. In 1942 he participated in the XXIII Venice Biennale and exhibited 27 works. It should also not be forgotten that after World War II, together with Lilloni, Treccani, De Grada, Cantatore and Spilimbergo, Friesland met in Bardonecchia as guests of the hotel owner Renato Perego for a stay dedicated to the study of the local landscape.

Donato Frisia’s painting and the Lombard tradition

There painting by Donato Frisia originates from Lombard tradition and has entered into current events thanks to the search for the modernity of the visual arts, well known by the Lombard artist, after testing the best trends; in fact, the following paintings from the 30s, 40s and 50s no longer bear traces of the earlier Tallonian influences, they turn out to be almost parallel to certain themes in the Gola, while in others they are freely influenced by the lively of French painting. after-effects. His painting has undergone a gradual transition from the immediate Lombard tradition to a modernity that has flown over the regional schools.

In his study of Merate as wide as a basilica sacristy and light due to the large window with frames that flooded the room, the walls and easels with light, the paintings – portraits and landscapes – worked over the years, showing hills and streets in Brianza, and places such as . such as Venice, Sicily and Paris.

On the palette of Friesland the white lime and the natural earths, which are colors in the mural technique, were well read, as well as the solid outline, the abolition of the nuance, the renunciation of the abuse of chiaroscuro; thus overcoming the romantic remnants of a more modern expression. An insistent research led him to vary the climates and places represented. The year after his death, a retrospective was set up in Milan and an anthology was held in Rome in 1956 as part of the Quadrennial. Fame was now framed.


Carlo Franza

Born in 1949, Carlo Franza is an Italian historian of modern and contemporary art. Art critic. He lived in Rome from 1959 to 1980, where he studied and obtained three degrees at La Sapienza State University (literature, philosophy and sociology). He graduated from Giulio Carlo Argan, of which he was a student and assistant alm. Since 1980, he has been in Milan, where he still lives. Extraordinary professor of history of modern and contemporary art (La Sapienza University-Rome), full professor of Italian language and literature. Visiting Professor at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and at numerous other foreign universities. Journalist, art critic from 1974 to 2002 at Il Giornale by Indro Montanelli, then in Libero from 2002 to 2012. In 2012, he returned and resumed his column “Scenari dell’arte” in the newspaper “Il Giornale”.

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