Franco Russoli was born in Florence on July 9 1923. Just after his birth, his father had to leave for Pisa, taking his family with him. It is here, during the Second World War that the young man obtained his degree in History and joined the Resistance. He finished his doctorate thesis on Macchiaioli in 1945 and became the assistant of Matteo Marangoni at the cathedral of Pisa. At the same time, he joined the ranks of the Superintendence where he worked on the rebuilding of the city, destroyed by the bombings. In 1946-47, with Piero Sanpaolesi and a few audacious enthusiasts, he organized the first exhibition of liberated Italy: la Mostra di Scultura del Trecento, which gave rise to the National Museum of San Matteo.
In 1950, Franco Russoli moved to Milan. Alongside Fernanda Wittgens, he helped in the reorganization and reconstruction of the city’s museums. In 1957 and for twenty years, the young director of the Pinacoteca Brera put all his energy into creating the “Great Brera”. This project planned the museum’s expansion for the presentation of works from private collections of modern art that the important Milanese collectors were to give to the institution. Acquired in 1972, the Palais Citterio was used both to increase the Brera’s exhibition space and for the presentation of certain foundations of Italian artists such as Lucio Fontana, Marino Marini and Renato Guttuso. The aim was to create what Russoli called “a living museum” that was to become a centre for the production of contemporary art. The early death of its creator put an unfortunate end to this project.
Alongside his museum activity, Russoli was a militant critic and the author of many exhibition presentation texts and forewords for the catalogues of his artist friends. Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Gino Severini, Lucio Fontana, Graham Sutherland, Girogio De Chirico, Max Ernst among others.
Throughout his life the Franco Russoli collection was supplemented thanks to the gifts of his friends. It was completed by the purchases he made with his wife to satisfy and accomplish their great passion for art.
In the 1970s, Russoli was named Superintendent of the Galleries and Monuments of Lombardy. He became a major political figure and was part of the top rank of those who contributed in founding the new Ministry of Italian Cultural wealth and the FAI (Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano). He was at the same time president of ICOM Italia for which he set the regulations. He died suddenly at the height of his career on March 21 1977 at the age of 53; just a few months after the completion of the “Great Brera” that is still today a dream for the city.
LE TOIT DU MONDE
Painted in 1926, Le Toit du monde belongs to the first cycle of the Surrealist paintings by Magritte. According to the artist he began working in a Surrealist vein in 1926 with Le jockey perdu when he was still in Brussels and just before moving to Paris. Painted a short time afterwards, Le Toit du monde is characteristic of Magritte’s Surrealist compositions, imprinted with silence and mystery.
This enigmatic painting is deprived of any human figures and depicts a violin emerging from an anthropomorphous table positioned on a honeycombed floor. This main motif is highlighted against a background of obscure mountains covered by a dense black network, evocative of both a volcanic eruption of lava and the network of human veins and arteries. Le Toit du monde is thus the first painting by Magritte to use the image of the human vein system, a stylistic pattern which would mark some of his most emblematic compositions of 1927 such as Le Sang du monde (Fig. 2) or Paysage (Fig. 3). This motif, which would become an essential part of Magritte’s compositions at this period, doubtless finds its source in Paul Nougé’s profession, a close friend of the painter, who alongside his activity as a poet and writer, also worked in a laboratory. The biologist experiments undertaken by Paul Nougé and in particular the use of a microscope allowing for the infinitely small to take on a monumental dimension, strongly influenced the works of the young Magritte.
Paul Nougé was at the time one of Magritte’s closest friends. He was the one who most often gave the titles of Magritte’s paintings during the evenings organized to this effect. He was also at the origin of the theory of “disturbing objects” which would play a fundamental role in the emergence of Surrealism in Brussels. This theory consisted, in an approach close to Lautréamont, in the association of unrelated objects in order to create a disturbing result that plays on their material and size.
In the present painting the different elements of Nougé’s theory can be found: the miniscule and the invisible (the network of veins) acquire here a monumental dimension, as if seen through a microscope and become the decor of the composition. The pink honeycombed floor was also doubtless a reference to the biological microcosm and is inspired by images of human cell tissue in the illustrated magazines of the time. This motif can be found in several paintings of this period, in particular the Portrait de Paul Nougé painted in 1927. The enigmatic association of a violin, a table and a human leg throws the spectator directly into the heart of the theory of “disturbing objects” with elements taken from the real world and re-contextualized haphazardly so that the spectator questions the strangeness of the world that surrounds him. The origins of La Trahison des Images can be found here: is the pipe really a pipe ?
Endowed with an exceptional provenance, (Eugène Flagey, Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren, Franco Russoli among others), this painting draws the spectator into the heart of the poetic enigma which constitutes Magritte’s art for whom « art must evoke the mystery without which the world would not exist. »
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