Home - Artists -  Alberto Martini

Alberto Giacomo Spiridione Martini
( Oderzo, 24 novembre 1876 – Milano, 8 novembre 1954 )

Italian designer, illustrator and painter, forerunner of the surrealist movement.

Alberto Giacomo Spiridione was the son of  Maria dei Conti Spineda de Cattaneis, from an  ancient noble family from the Treviso area, and of Giorgio Martini, naturalist painter and drawing teacher.

Between  1890 and 1895 under his father’s guidance, Alberto starts to paint and draw, following the family tradition. Actually, his father’s maternal relatives were known decorators and mosaicists from Venice.
During his training period, Martini realizes several drawings, and reveals immediately a particular preference for the graphics. Even if he devoted himself to fat pencils, he executed also oils, watercolours and tempera of small size, thanks to which, once bridged the mere school exercise, he attains the first valuable results.
His favourite themes are the ones related to the countryside from Treviso area, as well as to the countrymen at work: therefore man and his relationship with nature, seen in progress (for ex.
Antica gualchiera trevigiana, 1895). He gets practice also upon flowers and shells, that he studies in an analytical way, leaving a series of beautiful watercolours.
There are not only Vero exercises, we are dealing with themes by the means of which Alberto shows he assimilates the Italian and European late Romantic figurative culture, that was even populist and humanitarian, a kind of culture that was aimed to catch doubts and perplexities, of symbolist tune, on the meaning of life, rather than to define a context.
Between 1894and 1896 he performs the fourteen watercolour china paintings of the “Albo della morte, revealing northern cultural suggestions.

The illustrations of classics

In 1895 he begins the first series of pen illustrations with china ink for “Morgante Maggiore” by Luigi Pulci. However he soon abandons that to dedicate himself to the illustrations for “ La secchia rapita (1895-1935) by Alessandro Tassoni, a work he kept on until 1903. For that literary masterpiece, La secchia rapita, he executed 130 hero-comic drawings, that are mainly a youth production and are, according to Martini himself, .. a curious parade of ugly soldiers, starving and full of cooties…[...].
These works witness a great graphic ability in Martini, who is about thirty at that moment, and end up his youth experience on the level of precise literary sources and Nordic influences. Even in the punctual reference to the text  (the burlesque vein by Tassoni, his baroque truculence and  lithographic emphasis of the low "sublime"),the characters that were elaborated by Alberto seem to transform in a sort of grotesque revolutionary genre that proclaims the freedom of action and invention upon the character itself.
In these works it is evident the influence of the mannerist German graphics of the XVI century  ( the interest for Dürer, Luca di Leida, Urs Graf, Baldun Grien and the esteem for Sattler) an influence that is regained through a  peculiar symbolist view.
In 1896-97 he performs a series of  30 pen drawings with  china ink whose title is “ La corte dei miracoli”.
He starts the illustration of the graphic cycle of the “ Poema del lavoro” he will finish in 1898 (as a whole 9 pen drawings china ink).
In 1897he exhibits at the  II Biennale of  Venice 14 drawings for the “La corte dei miracoli”. The same drawings will be shown the following year in Munich and at the  International Exhibition in Turin together with the drawings made for” Il Poema del lavoro”.

In 1898 Martini is in  Monaco and works as an illustrator for the reviews Dekorative Kunst e Jugend. During the spring of that same year, the meeting of Martini with  Vittorio Pica in occasion of the Esposizione Internazionale di Torino will be fundamental: that famous critic from Naples will support him from that moment on, proposing his art in the Italian and European context.

The chromolitographies

In 1899 Martini takes part to the III Biennale of  Venice with his drawings for “Il poema del lavoro”, the works that will be shown in  Monaco and in Berlin.  From this year he executes a series  of nineteen chromolithographies ( illustrated post cards, posters for the Carnival or parties and advertising  affiches) for the  lithographic firms Longo and Zoppelli from Treviso.
They are works of inspiration that are vaguely  liberty with evident references to the  Secession and to the English pre-Raphaelite style. Vittorio Pica offers to the artist, in the meantime, to collaborate as an illustrator to the review Emporium and to the issues “ Attraverso gli Albi “ and “ Cartelle”.
In 1901 he performs the fist cycle of  19 pen watercolour drawings for the illustrated edition of "La Divina Commedia" that had been promoted by the competition  Alinari from Florence. He takes part to the  IV Biennale di Venezia with his works for “ La secchia rapita” that were partially bought by the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome.
In 1903 he ends his illustrations for “La secchia rapita” (130 pen drawings made with china ink)and he exhibits some of them at the  V Biennale di Venezia.

The European experience


In 1904 he is for a while in Paris. He performs the first ex libris for Antonio Fogazzaro, V. Pica, G. Rovetta and  Tom Antongini. He devotes to another graphic cycle whose title is “La lotta per l'amore” (pen and brush drawings in china ink).
he takes a successful part to an exhibition in London.
In 1905 he ends up the series” La lotta per l'amore” (as a whole 86 drawings ).he starts the illustrations for “ La parabola dei celibi” with which he takes part to the VI Biennale di Venezia. In the month of July he starts performing the illustrative panels for Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, he will work to, up to 1909,  and on, inaugurating a period of great creative intensity in the context of the graphics with literary inspiration.

1907is an important year, thanks to the contacts that Vittorio Pica had interwoven for him : as a matter of fact the artist begins the illustration of  Vert-vert by Gresset with two pen drawings in china ink.
In occasion of a personal exhibition  at the Leicester Gallery he goes to London, where he eventually meets the famous editor William Heinemann; with his help, in 1914, Martini will organize a personal exhibition at the Goupil Gallery, in London.
he takes part to the  VII Biennale of Venice, showing two wonderful olio paintings “ Notturno” and “ Nel sonno” and several drawings, among which “ La bellezza della donna” in the room called  L'arte del sogno, the art of dreaming.
He goes shortly to Paris where, once again thanks to Pica, he meets  Gabriel Mourey, a writer and French collaborator to the review from Bergamo "Emporium", and  Eugène Rodriguez, president of the society  "Les cent bibliophiles".


The graphics with literary cue

In the autumn of 1908 he attends the “ Mostra di belle arti” of  Faenza, in the section of  "White and Black ", showing some drawings of the “ Parabola dei celibi” some illustrations for Poe’s  and other works inspired to the town of Venice. To this year belongs a thick correspondence between Martini and the symbolist writer Valerij Brjusov, he probably met  during his stay in Monaco in 1898.
The Londoner editor Heinemann  published the volume of short stories by Perceval Landon, Raw Edges - Studies and Stories of These Days, that contains four illustrations by Martini.

In 1909 he accomplishes three pen drawings in china ink: “Crepuscolo veneziano”,” Una pagina crudele” and “ Sogno”. He is at the VIII Biennale di Venezia with his pen drawings “La bella straniera”,” Murano” and with eight illustrations for the “ Extraordinary Stories” by Poe. He executes a series of drawings for the work by Stéphane Mallarmé, “ Prose short poems” and the first panels for the  Macbeth by Shakespeare, to which the artist will work until 1911, out of sure.

In 1910-11 he performs the illustrative panels for the tragic poem by  E. A. Butti” Il castello del sogno” (1910), edit by  Treves Bros from  Milan.
After his father’s death, on the 28th October 1910, Martini moves to San Zeno, in the countryside of  Treviso, together with his mother.  In this  period he achieves his most significant illustrations, made for hamlet by  Shakespeare, the graphic cycle for Paul Verlaine’s poems (55 pen pastel coloured drawings ) and a series of puntesecche, such as “La sirena dormiente”,” Le figlie di Leda”, “La sirena e il mostro”.


The pastel painting

In 1912, encouraged by Pica, Martini  dedicates to the pictorial production, making use of the pastel technique, above all.
He executes the "Sinfonie del sole" (L 'Aurora, La notte, I fiumi) and the pastel painting “ Farfalla gialla”, example of the numerous works of these years, that were characterized by the theme of the woman – butterfly. The same subject that will be present again in  1915, in a series of lithographies entitled "Farfalle".
He takes part to the X Biennale of Venice with the pen drawings in  china ink, “ Autoritratto”,” Vittorio Pica”, “Hans St. Lerche”.

In 1914 he is at the XI Biennale di Venezia where he exhibits the pastel painting “Arlecchino, together with the portraits of the  marchioness Luisa Casati and of the countess Revedin.

The lithography

One of the cards from the series “ Danza Macabra”.

At the beginning of the First World War, he executes  54 lithographies whose title is Danza macabra, by the means of which he  reveals his anti German feeling. They were printed in card format and were distributed to the Allied Army  as a propaganda against the Austro-Hungarian Empire: for this purpose we have to remember that Charles Carry, attaché to the English Embassy in Rome, sends his congratulations with the request of a complete series for the English Ambassador at the  Quirinale; also the painter Federico Zandomeneghi is impressed and  "frightened" by the infinite fancy of  Martini.
The artist starts a series of  litographies, too,  he ended in 1915, for the graphic poem” Misteri”, containing six  illustrations (Amore, Morte, Infinito, Follia, Sogno, Nascita). The work, fore worded by a comment of  Emanuele di Castelbarco, will be published by the editing firm  "Bottega di Poesia" in 1923.
In the month of December Martini’s mother dies.

The war period

In May 1916, at Leicester Gallery in London, he exhibits four series of “Danza macabra”,  “Gli orrori della guerra”,six drawings for Poe and the  lithography “ Avanti Italia”. In September, in Liverpool, he takes part to a collective exhibition, organized by the Leicester Gallery: there, a part from the works shown in London, he presents the lithographic series of “Farfalle e Bocche”.

In 1917-18 in Bologna, while waiting to go to the war front, Martini starts to miniate, with china ink and watercolour, the ballades “ Les Orientales” by Victor Hugo, that were finished the following January.

The drama inspiration

In January 1919, the personal exhibition at the gallery of Lino Pesaro in Milan was inaugurated. Martini’s interest for theatre starts from the years  1919-20 : he realizes 84 pen and watercolour  drawings  and six tempera panels for the costumes of the  ballet “ Il cuore di cera”. In that  occasion the artist deals also with the choreography and of the literary canvas.

In 1920 he exhibits again, together with the sculpture Hans St. Lerche and the painter Mario Cavaglieri, at the Galleria Pesaro. The catalogue of the exhibition holds Vittorio Pica’s introduction.
Martini begins the graphic cycle of ”Thirty one odd and cruel fantasies”, the cycle will be finished in 1922, and published in 1924 by  Edizioni Bottega di Poesia, directed by the Count Emanuele di Castelbarco Visconti Simonetta. By the means of Castelbarco, Martini gets in touch with  aristocratic people of that period, mainly noblewomen such as the Princess Paola d'Ostheim and Wally Toscanini who will commission several works.

In  1922 he takes part to the XIII Biennale di Venezia with his pen drawing “Ritratto del marchese G.F.P.“, with some pastels and  13 works out of the cycle “Trentun fantasie bizzarre e crudeli”.

In the spring of 1923 Martini conceives the idea of  Tetiteatro:  a theatre upon the water entirely invented and dedicated, as the name goes, to the goddess of the sea Teti. "It was in the spring of  1923 that I invented the Tetiteatro –  Martini writes in his  Vita d' artista  – a drama invention that remained untouched even after having travelled in the world, without his author. An architecture Earth and Water theatre, a gigantic instrument for the tunes of a new voice and for the new drama plastic art".
Martini executes, in facts, inspiring to drama or music works by  Wagner, Strauss, Eschilo, Wilde and others, a series of drawings and scenographies for the realization of his theatre upon water. Such illustrations will be published in the volume “Il Tetiteatro” that is “ the theatre upon water” by Alberto Martini, with the text by  Emanuele di Castelbarco, edited in 1924 by Bottega di Poesia.

In 1924 he exhibits at XIV Biennale di Venezia the pastel “ A Venezia”, in which he portraits Maria Petringa, his future wife, who will be a source of inspiration for several works by  Martini, as the series of portraits dedicated to her witnesses, such as the pastel “ L'album di Daumier” of 1924, presented to the Biennale di Venezia in 1926; “Parrucca Bianca”, a work exhibited at the exhibition of 1927 at the  Galleria Scopinich of Milan; and the oil painting  “Serenade - Maria with the guitar”, in 1928.

In 1927 Martini executes drawings and paintings to illustrate the edition of November – December of the review "L'Eroica" .  he decides to found, with other people, a committee to honour Vittorio Pica: several Italian and foreign artists join.

In February 1928, Martini’s proposal is realized in the exhibition "Raccolta internazionale d'arte offerta dagli autori in omaggio a Pica", that was held in Milan at the Galleria Scopinich. For that occasion Martini draws a cartoon , that is used for the catalogue cover, as well a drawing in which he portraits Pica’s profile face.

The period in Paris

Deceived and embittered because of the hostility of the Italian critics, who seem to ignore his works at the end of the 20s, Martini moves to Paris where he has important friendships and numerous estimators of his art. In Paris, Martini will stay until 1934, with the exception of some short stay in Italy and a trip to Berlin in 1932.
During these years his wife, who had remained in Italy, rejoins him from time to time. In the French capital town  Martini has contacts with artists and literary people. He is a friend of Solito de Solis, musician and art lover, who introduces him in the aristocratic context from Paris.

He starts painting "in the black manner" exheuting works with a surrealist print: examples of that are the oil paintings “ Conversazione con i miei fantasmi”,” Fiore dello scoglio”,” La prigione sotterranea”.

1929-30: in this period in Paris Martini, produces a remarkable series of works  "at the clear manner": Martini dedicates again to the illustration in black and white of numerous texts; he performs, in fact, pen drawings and water coloured paintings for "Une saison en enfer" by Rimbaud, "Les fleurs du mal" by Charles Baudelaire, "Poèmes di Mallarmé", "L'homme qui rit" by Victor Hugo, "La croix de bois" by Dorgelès, "La danse macabre" by M. Orland, "Les destinées" by Alfred de Vigny.
In 1930 he takes part to the XVII Biennale di Venezia with the oil  “L'uomo che crea”.

In 1932he devotes in a special way to the applied arts: he executes a series of projects for small glass sculptures, taking inspiration to the stylistic canons of art decò and of XIX century, and also about fifty illustrations for cloths or wall papers, probably commissioned by the textile business man Adolfo Bogoncelli.

Coming back to Milan

In the period 1934-1940, because of his uncertain financial situation, Martini is forced to go back to Milan. here, in occasion of the triennial, he performs  the sketch for the  triptych                “Battaglia d' uomini e demoni”; with this work he engages to celebrate the conquers of the Italian regime.
At the same time,  however, mainly between 1935 and 1936, he reveals his strong feeling against the XIX movement by the means of the  publication of the review "Perseo":  drawing, captions and sketches characterized by a satirical biting vein .
He goes on with the illustrations, started in Paris in 1929, for “Aurelia” by Gérard de Nerval, he will end in 1944.  In these years there is the production of a pen drawing in china ink for           “Fioretti di San Francesco”, the illustrative panels for the novel “Cuore” by Edmondo De Amici
s (1936) and a series of drawings for the tragedy by Guido Stacchini” Il Titano liberato”.
In the  period 1941-1952 he illustrates a water lithography series “ La vita della Vergine” and other poems by R.M. Rilke. He executes also a graphic cycle for” La vita di Cristo” (1943-1944).
In December 1946 he takes part to the "Esposizione internazionale di ex libris e illustrazione del libro" at the Museo di Belle Arti of Nancy, where he is given a honour diploma.

In 1947 he executes twelve  puntesecche, collected under the title  “Poema mitografico”. In these years Martini keeps on to dedicate also to the painting activity, once dealing with works characterized by a mediocre naturalism, other times to works performed with a realism that has a remarkable expressive efficacy.
Among the oil paintings that are most interesting we should remember:” Anime gemelle” (1945),” Corteo di Venere” (1949), “La valle di Cleopatra” (1950).
In 1952 he exhibits at the XXVI Biennale di Venezia the pen works in china ink and  coloured pastels, entitled  “La realtà e i sogni di gloria” and “ La finestra di Psiche nella casa del poeta”.

Spiritual legacy

On the 8th November 1954 he dies in  Milan, at the Ospedale Fatebenefratelli.
he leaves a spiritual legacy, wishing the founding of a Museum where his memories and documents about the Italian Surrealism could be stored. Nowadays there is the  Pinacoteca Civica Alberto Martini from Oderzo.

 [ http://www.oderzocultura.it/ Pinacoteca Civica Alberto Martini di Oderzo].

from Wikipedia

translation by Irene De Angelis Curtis