Guttuso, Renato (1912-1987) - 1949 Sulphur Miners (Tate Gallery, London, UK)
Watercolor on paper; 69.5 x 104.5 cm.
Renato Guttuso was an Italian painter. His best-known paintings include Flight from Etna (1938–39), Crucifixion (1941) and La Vucciria (1974). Guttuso also designed for the theater (including sets and costumes for Histoire du Soldat, Rome, 1940) and did illustrations for books. Those for Elizabeth David’s Italian Food (1954), introduced him to many in the English-speaking world. A fierce anti-Fascist, " he developed out of Expressionism and the harsh light of his native land to paint landscapes and social commentary." He was born in Sicily, but from 1937 lived and worked largely in Rome. An anti-fascist, he joined the banned Italian Communist Party in 1940 and left Rome to become an active participant in the partisan struggle from 1943. He was also an opponent to the Mafia. In 1972 Guttuso was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. In 1976 he was elected to the Italian Senate as a PCI representative for the Sicilian constituency of Sciacca.
He rejected every academic canon, putting free figures in space and searching for the pure sense of color. Guttuso joined the artistic movement "Corrente", which stood for free and open attitudes, in opposition to the official culture, and chose a strong anti-fascist position in the thematic choices through the years of the Spanish Civil War.
During a stay of three years in Milan, he developed his "social" art, which highlighted a moral and political commitment visible in paintings like Fucilazione in Campagna (1938), dedicated to the writer García Lorca, and Escape from Etna.
Moving to Rome, he opened a study in Via Margutta where, because of his natural exhuberance, his friend Mazzacurati nicknamed him "Unbridled". He lived close by to the significative artists of the time: Mario Mafai, Corrado Cagli, Antonello Trombadori, keeping also in contact with the group from Milan of Giacomo Manzù and Aligi Sassu.
The controversial painting for which he is best remembered, at the time derided by the clergy and the fascists because it denounced the horrors of the war under a religious cover, is Crocifissione ("Crucifixion"). Guttuso wrote in his diary: "it is the symbol of all those who endure insults, jail, torture for their ideas".
He did not stop working during the years of World War II, his work ranging from landscape glimpses of the Gulf of Palermo to a collection of drawings entitled Massacri ("Massacres"), that clandestinely denounced slaughters such as the Fosse Ardeatine.