‘I think that a certain amount of colour, not on its own but next to others, glows and shines as if it were breaking up in a divisionist sense. Therefore the coldness that can appear is only valuable if it is separated, and disappears whenever we manage to unite all the colours of painting in the retina, in other words, in the gaze’ (A. MAGNELLI)
‘We were all so impatient to show our presence to the world and to transplant our old country at the heart of the spiritual modern movement’ (ALDO PALAZZESCHI)
Painted in 1914, La persiana verde emerged during one of the most fruitful and important periods in the artistic career of Alberto Magnelli, as he began to absorb the revolutionary styles of his Italian and French contemporaries and adapt them to his own unique idiom. Executed in bold swathes of vibrant, unmodulated colour, the composition focuses on a typical domestic scene, as a vase of flowers sits alongside a window, its bright red blossoms bathed in light, their crimson forms punctuating the dark interior of the room. The unusual, a-symmetrical nature of the composition, in which the green shutter that gives the title occupies a large portion of the right hand side of the canvas, creates the impression that the scene has been captured in passing, as if the artist has come across the view while out walking and committed it to his memory. The manner in which Magnelli reduces the scene to a series of simplified forms and angular planes prefigures the trailblazing abstraction that he was to develop shortly after, as his painting began to reach new levels of complexity and richness following his exposure to the breakthroughs of the Parisian avant-garde.
It was during the spring of 1914 that Magnelli, who was based in Florence, travelled to Paris for the first time, joining the poet Aldo Palazzeschi on his trip after a fortuitous meeting on the day the writer was set to leave for the French capital. Recalling their encounter, Palazzeschi described the spontaneity of Magnelli’s decision: ‘In the very first days of March 1914, one morning I was hastily crossing Tornabuoni Street, where I had gone to do some shopping in anticipation of a journey I was undertaking that day. Thus I met the dear Alberto Magnelli, whom I had known since childhood (…) “I am going to Paris. I take the train today, at 3 o’clock.” I was indeed going to join my friends Papini and Soffici (...) Carrà was also there, and Boccioni was soon to go. (…) Magnelli looked me straight in the eyes, all beaming, and planting his feet on the ground as if he wanted to glue himself there, he resolutely declared: “I'm coming too.” “And how are you going to prepare for this trip? Me, I'm ready.” “Do not worry, I'll take care of it. See you at three o'clock at the station.” I felt it so resolute that I hastened after him, reminding him “Think of the tuxedo!” Without turning around, as he ran, he nodded his head in agreement’ (A. Palazzeschi, quoted in Magnelli, exh. cat., Paris, 1989, pp. 173-174).
Magnelli’s enthusiasm for Paris was driven in part by his readings of Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger’s publication Du Cubisme (1912), as well as Guillaume Apollinaire’s Les Peintres Cubistes (1913), both of which detailed the groundbreaking developments occurring in the city’s avant-garde art scene, their black and white reproductions of works by the titans of Cubism inspiring Magnelli to develop a greater sense of geometry within his own painting. Upon arriving in Paris Magnelli and Palazzeschi were immediately absorbed into the lively artistic circles of Montparnasse, finding accommodation on the Rue de la Grande-Chaumiere. Surrounded by fellow artists at their new abode, the pair were exposed to some of the greatest thinkers and painters of the period, including Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Juan Gris and Alexander Archipenko. Magnelli also became closely acquainted with Apollinaire, who became an admirer and advocate of the artist’s works. It was through Apollinaire that Magnelli met Henri Matisse, whose emphatic use of colour and approach to form throughout his career exerted an important influence on the young Italian’s work. The pair also shared a profound interest in the possibilities of the genre of the still-life, a subject which would continue to occupy Matisse throughout the rest of his career, emerging in later compositions such as Red Interior: Still Life on a Blue Table (1947). Magnelli’s trips to the Salon des Indépendants, meanwhile, introduced him to the works of Archipenko, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, as well as a number of early examples of Giorgio De Chirico’s uniquely poetic paintings, all of which would prove essential to his evolution as an artist.
La persiana verde is one of a series of still-lifes Magnelli created in the immediate aftermath of his visit to Paris, after he had returned to Florence but while his experiences of the French capital were still fresh in his mind. Combining elements of the Futurist, Fauvist and Cubist compositions he had seen on his journey, these works also demonstrate the growing complexity of Magnelli’s own personal style, as he absorbed these radical new artistic languages and adapted them to his own techniques. By reducing the objects in La persiana verde to almost abstract, geometric forms, Magnelli creates a multi-layered composition that plays with notions of three-dimensional space and perspective, while the vibrancy of his colours and extreme planarity of his forms echo the bold pigments which dominated the work of the Fauves. The six weeks that Magnelli spent in Paris may have been brief but, as is evident from the present composition, they provided him with an incredible amount of inspiration and momentum. Although his plans to move to Paris to pursue his artistic career were derailed by the outbreak of the First World War, which left the artist stranded in his native Florence, the experience allowed Magnelli to forge his own, personal response to the incredible artistic changes of the times and develop an exciting aesthetic all of his own.