“One must look for what is exceptional in the true.”
Felice Casorati was born on December 4, 1883, in Novara, Italy.Casorati’s family frequently relocated during his childhood as his father, Francesco, was in the military, until they settled in Padua in 1895.
In Padua, Casorati pursued studied law, obtaining his degree in July 1906 while simultaneously apprenticing in art under Giovanni Vianello. In 1907, among the three works he submitted to the VII Venice Biennale, his portrait entitled Ritratto di signora (Portrait of his sister Elvira) received favourable recognition from the International Commission.
The family moved to Naples in 1908 and later to Verona in 1911, where Casorati engaged with the avant-garde artistic circles influenced by the secessionist movements of Munich and Vienna. In his early twenties, he exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1909, 1912, 1914, and 1919. The period was marked by his work Le signorine, which in 1912, at the XI Venice Biennale, established him as a prominent figure among the young artists associated with Ca’ Pesaro, echoing secessionist and Central European influences.
In 1913, Casorati participated in the Artists of Ca’ Pesaro Exhibition for the first time, showcasing 41 works. However, in 1915, following his first solo exhibition at the Roman Secession, he was called to military service. Tragically, his father died in 1917, leading to the family returning to Turin, where they settled in the house-studio on Via Mazzini.
World War I and his father’s suicide left a profound mark on Casorati, reflected in his works in 1919-1920, characterised by severe and taut pictorial space, such as Ragazza con scodella (Girl with Bowl – Interior), now housed in the GAM in Turin. Casorati formed a deep friendship with Piero Gobetti, who published the first biography dedicated to Casorati in 1923, titled Felice Casorati Pittore, and was among the signatories of Gobetti’s call for cultural and historical renewal in the magazine Rivoluzione culturale.
In 1923, Casorati was invited by the Presidency of the Promotrice delle Belle Arti to curate a room at the Quadriennale, where he invited artists of his choice, including Giorgio de Chirico, Carlo Carrà, and the young Chessa, Levi, and Menzio. This gave rise to the “school” of Casorati at his Via Mazzini studio, becoming a cultural hub for Turin, with Casorati at the forefront.
In 1925, along with Alberto Sartoris, Annibale Rigotti, and Mario Sombrero, he founded the Society of Fine Arts Antonio Fontanesi, of which he became the President. In the same year, he met Riccardo Gualino, who commissioned portraits of his family and entrusted Casorati with the project of a private theatre in his residence. This theatre, designed and built in collaboration with architect Sartoris, was inaugurated in 1925. In 1927, also with Sartoris, he organised a contemporary art exhibition hosted by the Rath Museum in Geneva.
In July 1930, Casorati married Daphne Maugham, and on July 2, 1934, their son Francesco was born. These years marked his active involvement in theatre, designing sets and costumes for productions like Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1934), Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma (1935), and Wagner’s Die Walküre. He continued his work as a scenographer alongside his painting career for many years.
In 1939, he received the Painting Prize at the International Art Exhibition in San Francisco, and in October 1941, he was appointed the Chair of Painting at the Accademia Albertina in Turin, eventually becoming its director in 1952. That same year, he had a solo room at the XXVI Venice Biennale. In September 1960, his sister Elvira passed away. In 1962, at the XXXI Venice Biennale, in the section dedicated to “Italian Symbolist Graphics,” Casorati was featured with 17 works.
Casorati’s works are held in major museums worldwide, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the National Gallery in London, the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, and the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, as well as the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Turin, the Mart in Rovereto, and Ca’ Pesaro in Venice, among others.
Felice Casorati passed away in his home in Turin on March 1, 1963.
Bertolino Giorgina Poli Francesco. Catalogo generale delle opere di Felice Casorati. Allemandi, 1995