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Galileo Chini and the decorative series for the Venice Biennial

Works from the Historical Archives of the Venice Biennial

January 17 - May 1 2007
Wolfsoniana, Via Serra Gropallo, 4 Genova Nervi


The exhibition documents the important relationship between Galileo Chini, one of the principal protagonists of Italian and international art during the first half of the twentieth century, and the Venice Biennial. The pavilions he designed remain among the most celebrated decorative series in the exhibition’s remarkable history.
The exhibit gives particular attention to two of the most important examples of this diligent and fruitful collaboration: the first for the Sala L’Arte del Sogno, prepared in 1907 with Plinio Nomellini, Gaetano Previati and Edoardo De Albertis, and the second for the Mestrović Salon, characterized by a series of allegoric panels depicting the militaristic strength and heroism of the Italian army.
In 1907, in the frieze for the Sala L’Arte del Sogno, Chini created a series with dancing putti, a theme he first explored for the 1906 Milan International Exposition.
In 1920 he created a cycle of fourteen panels to express the glories of war and victory with a late symbolistic allegorical emphasis.
This show is made possible by the gracious loan from the Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia. Archivo Storico delle Arti Contemporanee of twelve works recently restored with financial support from the Venetian Heritage Fund. Together with documents from the Wolfsoniana, the Chini Archive of Lido di Camaiore and the Ares Multimedia Archive of Genova, these works represent a series of important examples related to Chini’s work as a decorator and his special relationship with the Venice Biennial.

Galileo Chini (Florence 1873 - 1956) was painter, ceramist, illustrator, set and costume designer. His earliest Art Nouveau ceramics led to great success at the international exhibitions in London (1898), Paris (1900), Brussels, Gand and Petersburg (1901), Turin (1902), and St. Louis (1904).
In 1896 he founded L’Arte della Ceramica (The Arts of Ceramics) manufacturing in Florence that moved to Fontebuoni in 1901. His experience there influenced the painting La fabbrica (The Factory), which can be seen on the first floor of the museum. Over the next decade, Chini was strongly influenced by the works of Gustav Klimt and his naturalistic style evolved to take on more geometric and highly stylized forms. He was a regular participant in the Venice Biennial shows from 1901 to 1936. He was a prolific artist, creating the temporary spaces for some of the most important shows of the period as well as designing interiors for buildings, homes, churches, and chapels most notably in the major centers of Tuscany: Florence, Pistoia, Arezzo, Montecatini, Lucca and Prato.
Perhaps his most famous commission came in 1911 from the king of the Siam who had been introduced to Chini’s work at Venice. The king brought Chini to the Orient to create frescoes for his throne room in Bangkok. The experience had a profound effect on the artist’s style, and when he returned to Italy, Chini evolved toward the new Deco language, as it can be seen in the two large planters he designed for the Berzieri Thermal Spa in Salsomaggiore and which are now a part of the permanent collection of the Wolfsoniana.
This was also the beginning of Chini’s most active creative period, during which he created his designs for the Gran Caffè Margherita and the Grand Hotel Excelsior in Viareggio (1922), the Grand Hotel des Thèrmes in Salsomaggiore (1925), as well as set designs for Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, which were first seen on stage after the composer’s death. Contemporaneously, Chini also worked on large interior spaces for the oceanliners Roma, Augustus and Ausonia, and for two hydroelectric power stations in Alto Adige and for the headquarters of the Montecatini Corporation in Milan. In the 1930s he demonstrated a new preference for easel painting, showing his work in a number of both public and private spaces. Chini developed health problems at the end of the decade which eventually led to blindness in the 1940s.

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