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Osvaldo Licini (1894-1958) produced some of the most distinctive and idiosyncratic imagery in the history of twentieth-century Italian art. His early years were spent in Bologna, where he met Giorgio Morandi and experienced a fleeting interest in Futurism. Between 1917 and 1926 he divided his time between Italy and Paris, moving in the avant-garde circles of artists such as Modigliani and Picasso. On returning to Italy in the mid-1920s he established himself as a figurative painter of portraits and landscapes. However, early the following decade he abruptly changed direction and adopted a geometric-abstract vocabulary, developing a style infused with a sense of playfulness and poetry recalling that of Paul Klee. Together with artists such as Lucio Fontana and Fausto Melotti, Licini showed work at Milan’s important Il Milione gallery, and was associated with the international Abstraction Création group.
Having always been ill-disposed toward Mussolini’s regime, during the Second World War Licini withdrew into the isolation of his hometown of Monte Vidon Corrado, in the rolling landscape of Italy’s Marche region. There, his style once again underwent a dramatic shift, and he embarked on a series of highly imaginative works populated by fantastical characters such as ‘rebellious angels’, ‘flying Dutchmen’ and an enigmatic, moon-like presence he named ‘Amalassunta’. Licini died in 1958, the year of a major exhibition of his work at the Venice Biennale, where he was recognised as a modern master.
The first show to be dedicated to Licini by a British museum, Osvaldo Licini: Rebellious Angel explores every phase of the artist’s endlessly creative career, presenting around fifty of his most significant and characteristically exuberant paintings.