Painted in 1909, Maschere No 1 dates from the very beginning of Alberto Magnelli's career as an avant-garde artist. Locked in a sensual and abandoned dance, three figures appear engaged in a glamorous pantomime. A staggering clown, holding a coupe of champagne precariously in his hand, is encircled by two seductive, mysterious women, one enveloped in an ample scarf as bright as the sun, the other wearing an evening dress as sparkling as a starry night. The bright and exaggerated costumes are inlaid into a dark background, underlying the bold and curved lines of the forms. Conceiving the subjects as almost flat silhouettes, Magnelli nevertheless achieves in this picture a remarkable sense of dynamism and swing, capturing the atmosphere of a party at its heady height.
The year he painted Maschere No 1, Magnelli exhibited a works at the Biennale in Venice. He had started his career as an artist only two years before when, invited by a friend to paint en plein air, he had executed his first landscape. Maschere No 1's strength of composition and its original handling of the subject matter reveals how, by 1909, Magnelli had found his own artistic language. The painting could be perceived as being a pair to Maschere No 2, also portraying a couple of masquerading gentlemen. Together, these works provide two complementary scenes: one - in black and white - depicting the excited poise of people on their way to the party and the other - in vivid colours - celebrating the sparkle and magic of the event.
In 1910, Magnelli exhibited again at the Biennale. This time the event was historically marked by the presence of Gustav Klimt at the Austrian pavilion. As the art historian Roberto Longhi later described it, the encounter provided the 'first direct revelation of modern painting' for that generation of Italian artists and art critics (R. Longhi, quoted in Magnelli, exh. cat., Paris, 1989, p. 173). Magnelli must have been among those artists who marvelled at the work of the Austrian master, since in that year he began a series of paintings inspired by the decorative glamour of Klimt's paintings, further developing the silhouette style he had already mastered with Maschere No 1.
In 1914, together with the Futurist poet Aldo Palazzeschi, Magnelli travelled to Paris where he met Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger and Max Jacob. The experience pushed Magnelli further down the path of abstract art. By 1915, with works such as Composition No 0522, Magnelli had left behind any sign of realism. A comparison between these two works reveals that the brightness of the colour, the dynamism of the shapes and the complementarity of forms of that abstract composition were already anticipated in Maschere No 1.