“Luigi Rossi’s case is a special one, in that a central European soul is contained within the Milanese fabric of his training, a tendency that denies him admission to regional schools and isolates him in a difficult situation of figurative Esperanto”. We open this review of Luigi Rossi with the concise conclusion to the essay (introducing the first catalogue of paintings of 1979) which Rossana Bossaglia dedicated to the “European artist”, thus sparking a debate on identity.
The question was raised by Felice Cameroni as early as 1899, when he wrote “to the Swiss-Milanese-Parisian Rossi”, capturing the features of a special individuality whose direction has only now been precisely mapped out, considering the variety of the lyrical inspiration, which corresponds to an individual style, of a sincere artist with great personal coherence. An artist both cultured and spontaneous, called on to interpret the aspiration towards a difficult serenity and poised “between watchfulness and restlessness”, as Jean Soldini wrote in 1985.
In terms of development, the complex question of an evolving identity is structured in two phases linked to the artist’s different institutional approach and above all to the changes within the body of his work.
The early works, from the naturalistic landscape to the portrait, above all via the realist and sentimental genre scene, are part of the Lombard figurative culture which granted Luigi Rossi a place among Italian artists invited to the first Venice Biennale in 1895. At this exhibition he presented Scuola del Dolore, a prestigious purchase by the Italian royal family, while in 1911, at the exhibition in Rome celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Italy, Luigi Rossi exhibited Arcobaleno, a painting bought by the Swiss Confederation.
From the early 1890s to the early 1910s there was a move from realism to symbolism in Luigi Rossi’s work. The presence of the poet Lucini, whose words correspond to Rossi’s style elements, radiated from the heart of the poetic creation. The artist alternated between social-symbolist and art nouveau-symbolist works, his theories favouring humanitarian ideals or art with imaginative strength. Towards the mid 1890s he painted L’armée du travail and Rêves de Jeunesse (cat. no. 104), while around 1910 he produced two canvases with a different social and allegorical tone, set in an imaginary diptych contrasting the enclosed space of city tenement buildings (Alveare) with the open expanse of vast and chilly alpine scenery (Canto dell’aurora). Always sustained by his affection for the subjects of his painting, as for example when as a “humorist verging on sadness” he took up the subtle and melancholic mood, veined with refined irony, of the illustrations for his French writer friends Alphonse Daudet and Pierre Loti, Luigi Rossi resisted contemporary “isms” and preferred the rule of the simplicity achieved by his style when freely translating ideas, far from common convention.
Symbolic associations contribute to his “ideal figurations” and his work lies at the centre of an exchange between words and figures: he acted as reader-illustrator when translating the writing of Daudet and Loti into images, yet as a painter when his paintings are the subject of a transcription into verse by Lucini. His special status, anomalous and at the same time autonomous in relation to the system, corresponds to the coining of a serene language, understated in its variety and only apparently uneven, yet able to adapt to the most widely differing solutions. Rossana Bossaglia is right in saying that “the strength lies in his simplicity” and his “art of imagination”, construed by Grubicy, aims with sincerity at translating “what the eyes of the soul see”, in the words of the artist himself.