Painted in 1917, La toilette is one of the most important amongst the fifteen oils Magnelli's executed between 1916 and 1917 - a very selective output, dictated by the artist's personal vicissitudes during the war, as well as by the rigour of his artistic research during this pivotal phase of his career.
These were intense years for Magnelli, who alternated periods at the battle front with painful sojourns in military hospitals, and brief moments spent convalescing in his hometown, Florence - the only times he could consecrate to painting. This existential cross-road explains not only the scarcity of his production in 1916-1917 (especially compared to the 96 paintings executed in 1913-1914), but also the density of the pictorial references betrayed by these fifteen canvases. These works epitomise the point of arrival of a path begun in 1916, symbolised by a return to figuration, and exemplified by La toilette.
Magnelli did not choose simply to re-embrace the human figure per se. He created a special pictorial vocabulary for his women, defined by linear, elongated forms, drawn by strong contours, with flat, bright fields of colour. These enigmatic women move within empty spaces, almost theatrical sets, with exaggerated shadows and emphasised cloisonnisme.
The oil's most immediate stylistic reference is, clearly, Modigliani, quoted in the elegant oval heads, the long mannerist necks, the thin and idealised feminine shapes. Modigliani was one of the many artists that Magnelli enthusiastically discovered during his epiphanic visit to Paris in the spring of 1914, alongside the protagonists of the other avant-garde movements which had recently blossomed in the city: Fauvism, and especially Matisse, to whose studio he was invited by Apollinaire; and Cubism, to which he was exposed by Kahnweiler. Both movements are clearly cited in the linear contrasts and emphatic colours of the present painting.
Above all influences, though, is the lesson of De Chirico, whose metaphisical architectures are here transferred from Ferrara to Florence, and whose signature Manichini are the visual precedent for the hyeratic figures of La toilette.
With his series of 1916-1917, Magnelli assimilated and re-elaborated all the most recent radical movements in Western art: these women represent the beginning of the research which will be accomplished with the Explosions lyriques of 1919, critically acclaimed as the artist's masterpieces.