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Pellizza. Il quadro di una vita: invincibile.

Pellizza. The picture of a life: invincible.

 Telling the story of Pellizza da Volpedo's painting "the fourth state" is like telling about a person's life.

Even after the suicide of the still young Giuseppe Pellizza, his "life" (that of the painting) did justice, not without effort, to the sensitivity and soul of the painter. A great painter.

quarto stato


The "Ambassadors of hunger"

It took ten years to arrive at the final result that we all know, a beautiful, enormous painting measuring 2.93 by 5.53 m: from 1891 to 1901.

In 1891 Giuseppe witnessed a protest by a group of workers in Volpedo and was impressed by it.

In his diary he notes that the social question is imposed and, like others are dedicated to it and are studying how to solve it, art must not remain extraneous to the movements that are busy "towards a goal that is still an unknown but which one also senses must be better in the face of the present conditions ".

He therefore begins to create and study sketches and tests for a painting that he imagines entitled “Ambassadors of hunger”. The compositional structure is already, in embryo, that of the painting we know with three figures in front of the background group.


Already painted inside of me

We could say that it is a “work in progress”: Pellizza draws, thinks, writes and paints. He creates a painting "Piazza Malaspina a Volpedo", which clarifies the environment he is thinking about for the final result.

Inside him the picture is already done, but it still does not appear to him; however, he knows with certainty what is wrong and continues to try, until his eyes see what his sensitivity has already deposited in him.

A process of unveiling.

Pellizza writes and describes the scene:

"The ambassadors are two serious advances on the square towards the palace of the lord ... They are men, women, old people, children: all hungry who come to claim what is rightful - serene and calm, after all, like those who know how to ask for more no less than what is due to them - they have suffered a lot, the hour of redemption has come, so they think and do not want to obtain by force, but with reason - someone may raise their fist in an act of threat but the crowd is not, with he, she trusts in her ambassadors - intelligent men [...] "


The Fiumana

We are in 1895. The title changes. Now Joseph thinks it should be "The River". The compositional complex changes.

People are no longer compressed by the environment, but make it up. No more brick walls, but a wall of men, a river in fact. Unstoppable.

The colors also follow the new intent: backgrounds from blue to green and contrasts on yellow and red tones. A female figure (the model is his wife) is added a step back, not out of acquiescence, but as an allegory of humanity, because she has a child in her arms.

In addition to drawings, he takes photographs with his models posing.

He creates the definitive painting "La fiumana" and writes: “… The flood of Humanity thirsting for justice - for that justice that has been trampled up to now and which now shines a distant mirage”.

But the result still does not convince him.


Way of the workers "

Meanwhile in Milan, General Bava Beccaris was busy going down in history with his guns, used at zero elevation on the defenseless crowd of workers in a senseless and bloody repression.

The painter's goal is to make the stream more tumultuous and make it advance in a wedge shape towards the viewer. Outline the front rows better so that identities can be accurately identified posing.

In addition to his wife Teresa Bidone, we can recognize the central figure as Giovanni Zani known as Gioanon, on the left (for the viewer) the carpenter Giacomo Bidone and other fellow villagers and relatives of the painter along the entire first row.

The sky is more lively, clouds and impatient flashes of clear sky. Pellizza himself describes his technique as follows:

“In the result, the invoice should not be all in dots, nor all dashes, nor all in mixture; nor either all smooth, or all rough; but as varied as the appearances of objects in nature are, and with shapes and colors it will reach "a talking harmony" (this would be the supreme purpose), an idea in the mind or a feeling in the heart "

We are almost there. The title is now: "Workers' Way"


Art and "Fourth Estate"

The drafting of this ideal project, which finally reflects the picture that his mind and soul already knew, takes three years.

When Giuseppe finally puts down the brush, the purpose of the painting itself changes: it is no longer a socio-humanitarian storm, but a socio-proletarian claim. Those who walk towards us are "men of work" who make the struggle for humanitarian rights a class struggle.

There is no violence, but a steady, calm and unstoppable pace. In the framework of Pellizza the "Fourth Estate", the definitive title that will go down in history, the proceeding is simply invincible.


The painting and Prince Amedeo

The painting was exhibited for the first time at the "Quadrennial of Turin" in 1902 and, despite the jury there was a close friend of Giuseppe, the sculptor Giuseppe Bistolfi, the work received no recognition. The jury awarded a sketch for "Monument to Prince Amedeo".

In addition to the bitter disappointment that Pellizza experienced as a true betrayal, no one bought the painting, thus worsening the finances of the painter who had committed so much time and resources.


The painting becomes a symbol

The art critic Giovanni Cena was able to grasp the value of the work by writing: "it is something that will remain and that is not afraid of time, because time will benefit it".

Pellizza da Volpedo ended his time prematurely, unable to survive the death of his beloved wife.

And since "the system" was careful not to exhibit the work due to its enormous communication skills, success began to come from prints and reproductions of the work published in magazines and newspapers.

He also became a symbol for the socialists through their magazine "Avanti!". The more the exhibition committees, in deference to power, refused to exhibit it, the more the image of the work spread among the people.


Mussolini vs Pellizza da Volpedo

In 1921 the painting became part of the heritage of the Gallery of Modern Art in Milan and was exhibited at the Castello Sforzesco.

One of Mussolini's great merits was that of taking the painting and hiding it in a deposit so that no one would see it. Incidentally, Fascism did not like Pellizza's message.

Taking the painting and placing it in the boardroom of Palazzo Marino was one of the first actions of the first mayor of Milan after the liberation, Antonio Greppi. The "tallest monument that the workers' movement has ever been able to boast in Italy".


From here to eternity

It remained there until 1980 and then placed in a room entirely dedicated to the masterpiece at the Gallery of Modern Art in Milan. Since 2010 it has been housed in the Museo del Novecento, the first work exhibited in recognition of its artistic value.

I would very much like that, by some astral miracle, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo could see everything that happened after him and see that his work has proved as he had imagined it: invincible.



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