Camillo Innocenti

The beginnings

Camillo Innocenti was born in Rome on June 14, 1871.

Innocenti studied at Visconti High School. He was directed to the workshop of painter Ludovico Seitz, part of the Nazarene movement and a friend of his mother. The young Innocenti followed his teacher to a worksite in the Vatican as he had been commissioned by Leo XIII to fresco the vaults of the Galleria dei Candelabri. Here Innocenti had the chance to closely study the great painting of the past, from Raphael to Michelangelo. 

Antonio Mancini’s studio

Soon his attention shifted to contemporary art. Between the late 1880s and the early 1890s, he started to frequent Antonio Mancini’s studio. He remembered the impact of Mancini’s painting on young artists in his important autobiography published by Pinci in 1959 with the title Ricordi d’arte e di vita:

“As soon as we started to see Mancini’s paintings, “We young people really lost our minds. The scoldings piled on at home from my father and my older brother who reproached me for going after a madman. I put up with it, but I didn’t change my mind.”

He was in contact with Domenico Morelli in this period as well, for whom he made several studies. He also met Francesco Paolo Michetti, who came to Francavilla sul Mare with Gabriele d’Annunzio. 

He was profoundly influenced by the work of the masters in his youthful phase, as is clear in paintings such as Morelli’s Sacra famiglia (private collection), Mancini’s Ragazza con papaveri, and Le buranelle (Ascoli Piceno, Pinacoteca Civica). We can also see references to Michetti as well as suggestions of Ettore Tito’s painting.

Innocenti debuted at the Venice Biennale in 1903. In addition to exhibiting three paintings with a subtle influence of Divisionism (Aurora [Dawn], La prima luce e il lavoratore della terra [The First Light and the Land Workers] and Ritratto [Portrait), he worked with artists who were his contemporaries like Arturo Noci, Umberto Coromaldi, Alessandro Poma, and Enrico Nardi to make the decorative frieze designed by Aristide Sartorio for the Sala del Lazio. 

Prizes and accolades

In 1904, he won the gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Saint Louis for Ciociara Song; he won the Rome Prize for it in 1906.

Also in 2004, he won the silver medal from the Ministry of Public Education for Bambina che ascolta le favole [Girl Listening to Fairy Tales].

In 1905, the famed Irish painter John Lavery nominated Innocenti for the gold medal at the Venice Biennale for his painting Sui monti d’Abruzzo [In the Abruzzo Mountains] (now lost), which was displayed in the Sala del Lazio with In piazza [In the Square].

The latter was purchased by the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome. 

He was influenced by international modern painting, which he had been able to see at the Venice Biennales. He found a new source of inspiration in the life of contemporary women. 

In 1905, he returned to Rome from his travels in Abruzzo and made a series of drawings during his breaks between paintings. Small figures of young girls and ladies playing the piano, pouring tea, styling their hair in front of the mirror, crocheting, or engaged in some other domestic tasks (V. Pica, 1909).

Eight of the drawings in question were shown in the 1906 issue of Novissima, seeming to announce a new direction to his work to a sophisticated public. The great success of his urbane subjects that he brought to the 1907 Biennale led to his being in the 1909 Biennale with a personal show of twenty large paintings, introduced in the catalog with an enthusiastic critical essay by his friend Ugo Ojetti. 

In 1910, he was a member of the Italian commission at the Universal Exposition in Brussels and the International Exposition in Rome in 1911. 

The Roman Secession movement

Two years later he was one of the founders of the Roman Secession movement that came out of a dispute with the Society of Lovers and Cultivators of Fine Arts, now considered out of step with the times and too attached to official realms. 

The group’s first exhibition was at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in 1913. Even though Innocenti was one of the main artists, he presented only one work, Ritratto [Portrait]. Most of his recent works were exhibited in Paris in the prestigious Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in a solo exhibition that definitively solidified his international success. 

Academic of merit for painting

In 1913 he also earned an important official recognition from the Academy of San Luca, being named academic of merit for painting.

At the 1914 Secession exhibition, he made up for his scant participation in the previous year and had a solo exhibition both with the works shown in Paris and new paintings such as La Sultana, [The Sultana] now in the collections of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Rome.

World War I era

Because of the onset of World War I, the later Secession exhibitions (1915, 1916–17) were presented in a toned-down version. 

The Venice Biennale was not held from 1914 to 1920. 

During this period, Innocenti worked mainly on set design for films, with which he had great success throughout Europe. At the end of the war, his urbane paintings no longer seemed to meet with enthusiasm from the critics or the market, now oriented towards more austere monumentality. 

Innocenti and Egypt (1923–1940)

The artist looked to new situations, such as in Egypt. In 1923 he had a solo show at the Circolo Italiano in Alexandria, Egypt. 

Back in Rome, he had a solo exhibition at the 2nd Roman Biennale, where he showed works inspired by his trip to Egypt. He returned to North Africa in 1925 and took over the direction of the Cairo Academy of Fine Arts. 

He stayed until 1940 – including working as a court artist – when the growing pressure of war made him have to find his way back to Rome. 

Between 1943 and 1947 he lived on the Adriatic coast. 

In 1945, he had a solo exhibition in Rimini but he was now part of the contemporary artistic scene. The following years were marked by increasingly dire economic conditions. 

He died on January 4, 1961 in Rome, at the age of almost ninety.

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