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Leonardo Bistolfi

Casale Monferrato (AL) 1859 - La Loggia (TO) 1933

Italian sculptor

 In 1875, thanks to a scholarship awarded by the Municipal Council of Casale, Leonardo Bistolfi enrolled at the Brera Academy in Milan where he attended courses in drawing and sculpture. During his stay in Milan he was influenced by and joined the late Scapigliatura Lombarda movement, incorporating some of its artistic ideas into his work. Towards the end of 1879 he enrolled at the Albertine Academy of Fine Arts in Turin to attend courses held by Odoardo Tabacchi, and in 1881 he opened his own atelier.
In 1883, the Academy commissioned a bust of Fontanesi from him and this led Bistolfi to begin a fruitful commemorative portrait business that would continue for the rest of his life.
From 1890 onwards, he was increasingly part of the artistic world in Turin and the recognised leader of Piedmontese pictorial sculpture. In this period he was a regular member of the intellectual set meeting at the home of Lombroso, associated with painters in the Divisionist group (Previati, Pelizza da Volpedo, Segantini, ..) sharing their Socialist, humanitarian and idealist ambitions, and struck up a particular friendship with the writer Giovanni Cena a follower of the political and aesthetical ideas of Morris and Ruskin. From the mid-1890s he actively devoted himself to funerary sculpture, producing La "Sfinge" (Sphynx) for the Pansa tomb in Cuneo (1892), which endorsed him as a symbolist artist.
In 1895 his art underwent a complete stylistic change with the creation of the tombstone known as "Le spose della morte" (Death’s Wives), in which he combined Pre-Raphaelitism, Symbolism and Liberty.
From this year too he began taking part at the Venice Biennale and the following year actively contributed to the organisation of the Triennial Fine Arts Exhibition in Turin. In 1902 he was one of the major promoters and vice-president of the International Modern Decorative Art Exhibition and, on this occasion, was also co-founder with Davide Calandra, Enrico Thovez, the goldsmith Ceragioli and the architect Reycend of the magazine, "L’Arte Decorativa Moderna", programatic manifesto supporting the ideas of the Liberty (Art Nouveau) movement. The exhibition permitted Bistolfi to strike up relations with illustrious foreign artists and to become known outside Italy too.
As Rossana Bossaglia says, "exponents of European modernist criticism began to recognise this Italian master, who was approaching maturity, as a highly capable and intuitive interpreter of the symbolist concept of art and an inventor of novel forms, that would later be stylistically classified as Art Nouveau. In those years, Bistolfi’s sculpture had almost no rivals in Europe, no one was as able as he was to capture an image without weighing it down with descriptive characteristics, on the contrary maintaining the fluidity of a dream". Dreams are one of the dominating themes of Bistolfi’s aesthetics, and he himself often used expressions such as "my dream", "my lovely dream", "my painful dream" to describe the mental processes leading to his works.
In 1905 with Alfred East, Ludwing Heterich, Giorgio Belloni and Giuseppe Romagnoli he was a member of the acceptance jury for the sixth Venice International Exposition and he was the first Italian sculptor to be offered the honour of a one-man exhibition, at which he exhibited a number of drawings and 22 sculptures, winning the Grande Medaglia d’Oro for sculpture.
In the following year he applied without success for the Sculpture chair at the Albertine Academy in Turin, which had become vacant upon the death of Odoardo Tabacchi and was assigned to Zocchi. His exclusion aroused endless controversy since Bistolfi was considered to be the greatest living Italian sculptor.
Having become a specialist in works for sepulchral monuments, in March 1908 due to "distinguished fame" he was entrusted with creating the Carducci monument in Bologna which took him over 20 years to complete.
In 1909 he opened an atelier at La Loggia, a small rural community near Turin, where he continued his work, completing numerous civil and public monuments to be erected throughout Italy. In 1923 he was made Senator and at the same time President of the 1st Decorate Arts Biennial exhibition in Monza, an office that he held until 1925. As from 1930, his gradually began to work less.
In summary, as Panzetta says, "after a debut close to Lombardy pictorialism and verismo, starting from the sepulchral works of the 1890s he became increasingly more fascinated by the international brand of symbolism. From around 1905 onwards, in the wake of Rodin’s works and "Michelangelism", his attention focussed on the human body, complicating the symbolism and accentuating the linear and decorative sense that was innate in him. Thanks to his followers, this style was to become typical of official celebrative monumental sculpture in Italy in the 1920s."
The Bistolfi collection of plaster casts at Casale Monferrato contains a large proportion of his production.


Works: Sculptures and posters