Biography

One more war. The last years

September 1st, 1939: Germany invaded Poland and started the Second World War off.

In those days Baldessari discovered he was wanted on charges of being anti-fascist and communist. He was also accused of being enrolled in the socialist international, which was true (he also had a card …) but only because  Picasso had officially enrolled him, when they had associated in Paris in the early 1920s. In those days Baldessari was in Milan in his studio in Via Borgonuovo, and from some friends in the prefecture, he learned that the OVRA (the fascist secret police) was waiting for him in Chiasso in case he tried to expatriate, given his relations with Hess (of whom they knew everything …). So he asked for help to Rinaldo Corti, a gallerist from Varese who had organized exhibitions for him several times, and Corti immediately understood that he had to expatriate him by another way … and he opted for Porto Ceresio.

September 1st, 1939: Germany invaded Poland and started the Second World War off.

In those days Baldessari discovered he was wanted on charges of being anti-fascist and communist. He was also accused of being enrolled in the socialist international, which was true (he also had a card …) but only because  Picasso had officially enrolled him, when they had associated in Paris in the early 1920s. In those days Baldessari was in Milan in his studio in Via Borgonuovo, and from some friends in the prefecture, he learned that the OVRA (the fascist secret police) was waiting for him in Chiasso in case he tried to expatriate, given his relations with Hess (of whom they knew everything …). So he asked for help to Rinaldo Corti, a gallerist from Varese who had organized exhibitions for him several times, and Corti immediately understood that he had to expatriate him by another way … and he opted for Porto Ceresio.

Fortunately everything went well and Baldessari arrived in Morcote, on the Lake of Lugano, towards the end of 1939, in the company of Corti, who introduced him to a friend, Riccardo Poma, the municipal person in charge for the management of the ration cards. For a few days Poma hosted Baldessari and then introduced him to Dardo Gattelli, at the time an expert painter and then a gallerist. Gattelli owned an empty house he thought to offer to Baldessari, and with the house he also offered him a job : to produce landscape paintings on an industrial scale, because, given the many tourists, there was a great demand for landscapes … precisely touristic artworks. But Baldessari was afraid of being discovered and expelled from the Canton of Ticino,  he did not want to sign with his name and so they decided by mutual agreement to sign these works with the name of Gattelli.

The view he could enjoy (and still can be enjoyed) from the terrace of that modest house was spectacular: it dominated the whole town below, and ranged across the lake towards Lugano. And therefore enchanted by that sight Baldessari churned out hundreds of paintings whose sale allowed the artist one of the most serene and profitable periods of his life. In fact, during those years of war Morcote was considered a bit the Portofino of Switzerland and therefore became also the location for the annual meeting of all the VIPs of the Swiss Confederation. Baldessari’s pictorial skill, although no one knew that the paintings were his work, won the attention of wealthy Swiss tourists and they were often still purchased fresh from the paint.

Fortunately everything went well and Baldessari arrived in Morcote, on the Lake of Lugano, towards the end of 1939, in the company of Corti, who introduced him to a friend, Riccardo Poma, the municipal person in charge for the management of the ration cards. For a few days Poma hosted Baldessari and then introduced him to Dardo Gattelli, at the time an expert painter and then a gallerist. Gattelli owned an empty house he thought to offer to Baldessari, and with the house he also offered him a job : to produce landscape paintings on an industrial scale, because, given the many tourists, there was a great demand for landscapes … precisely touristic artworks. But Baldessari was afraid of being discovered and expelled from the Canton of Ticino,  he did not want to sign with his name and so they decided by mutual agreement to sign these works with the name of Gattelli.

The view he could enjoy (and still can be enjoyed) from the terrace of that modest house was spectacular: it dominated the whole town below, and ranged across the lake towards Lugano. And therefore enchanted by that sight Baldessari churned out hundreds of paintings whose sale allowed the artist one of the most serene and profitable periods of his life. In fact, during those years of war Morcote was considered a bit the Portofino of Switzerland and therefore became also the location for the annual meeting of all the VIPs of the Swiss Confederation. Baldessari’s pictorial skill, although no one knew that the paintings were his work, won the attention of wealthy Swiss tourists and they were often still purchased fresh from the paint.

Then, on April 25th, 1945, the news came that Italy had been liberated. Baldessari, however, remained for a few more months in Morcote to wait for the situation in Italy to stabilize and then, towards the end of the year, he finally returned to  Rovereto.

Since it became impossible even to talk of Futurism ( it was immediately accustomed to fascism …)  the artist was forced to resume his figurative painting and also the engraving until, in 1957, his friend Corti, together with his old patron, Hess, organized the publication of a small booklet which was in fact the first documentation of his futurist period. Then, in Trento in 1962, Riccardo Maroni, who had started a series on Trentino artists, published a small monograph that gave an overall panorama of the artist, as a futurist and figurative painter, but also as a talented engraver.

At the same time, several exhibitions were organized in 1960, in Venice, Milan, Trento, etc., with a nucleus of works of the futurist period which, once Hess died, in 1957, Baldessari had bought back from his widow: works he had not seen for forty years. However, Baldessari, who for years had been bent over in landscape painting, had a more than bitter vision of his life and his last words were sadly wrapped in a crude pessimism.

«I have behind me – he wrote in May 1962 – a long artistic experience. And it is precisely for this reason that my conclusions can only be bitter. Are we approaching the dissolution of a great and centuries-old culture? I fear that Spengler’s prophecy about the Untergang des Abendlandes [Baldessari quotes the book “The Sunset of the West”, which conceived the advance of modernity also as a decline of western culture] comes true: I fear that future generations of super-technicians and cosmonauts will no longer have any interest in art, nor nails to hang the artifacts of future masters on their crystal and steel walls».

Then, on April 25th, 1945, the news came that Italy had been liberated. Baldessari, however, remained for a few more months in Morcote to wait for the situation in Italy to stabilize and then, towards the end of the year, he finally returned to  Rovereto.

Since it became impossible even to talk of Futurism ( it was immediately accustomed to fascism …)  the artist was forced to resume his figurative painting and also the engraving until, in 1957, his friend Corti, together with his old patron, Hess, organized the publication of a small booklet which was in fact the first documentation of his futurist period. Then, in Trento in 1962, Riccardo Maroni, who had started a series on Trentino artists, published a small monograph that gave an overall panorama of the artist, as a futurist and figurative painter, but also as a talented engraver.

At the same time, several exhibitions were organized in 1960, in Venice, Milan, Trento, etc., with a nucleus of works of the futurist period which, once Hess died, in 1957, Baldessari had bought back from his widow: works he had not seen for forty years. However, Baldessari, who for years had been bent over in landscape painting, had a more than bitter vision of his life and his last words were sadly wrapped in a crude pessimism.

«I have behind me – he wrote in May 1962 – a long artistic experience. And it is precisely for this reason that my conclusions can only be bitter. Are we approaching the dissolution of a great and centuries-old culture? I fear that Spengler’s prophecy about the Untergang des Abendlandes [Baldessari quotes the book “The Sunset of the West”, which conceived the advance of modernity also as a decline of western culture] comes true: I fear that future generations of super-technicians and cosmonauts will no longer have any interest in art, nor nails to hang the artifacts of future masters on their crystal and steel walls».

Today, almost sixty years after those words, we can say that Baldessari fortunately was wrong. Although modern buildings and museums are built with “crystal and steel” walls, works of art, for our luck, always have a privileged space.

And especially his works, as well as those of Depero and many other Futurists, who in recent years have enjoyed increasing consideration, in criticism, museum and among merchants.

Already undermined for some time by a serious illness, Baldessari died in Rome on June 22nd, 1965.

Today, almost sixty years after those words, we can say that Baldessari fortunately was wrong. Although modern buildings and museums are built with “crystal and steel” walls, works of art, for our luck, always have a privileged space.

And especially his works, as well as those of Depero and many other Futurists, who in recent years have enjoyed increasing consideration, in criticism, museum and among merchants.

Already undermined for some time by a serious illness, Baldessari died in Rome on June 22nd, 1965.

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