Beginning November 16, Pulitzer Arts Foundation Spotlight Tour will focus on the the life, work, and era of Medardo Rosso, an important, yet somewhat neglected, figure in the history of the development of modern sculpture. Over the course of his brief career, he made about fifty original, distinctly un-heroic subjects cast in plaster, wax, and bronze. Although he was best known for his radical experiments in sculpture, Rosso also was a highly experimental photographer, as well as the creator of innovative drawings.
Pulitzer Arts Foundation
3716 Washington Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63108
Life, Work, and Era
Nov 16–Dec 24
Technical Experiments and Serial Sculpture
Dec 28–Feb 11
Graphic Work and Its Reproduction
Feb 15–Mar 25
Surface, Light, and Shadow
Mar 29–May 13
Rosso was born in Turin, where his father worked as a railway station manager. When his family moved to Milan, Rosso distressed his parents by leaving school to start to work as a stone carver. At the age of 23, after a spell in the army, he enrolled at the Brera Academy, where he learned to draw classical statues and copy them in stucco. Rosso rebelled at the academic art lessons focused on classical statues, demanding instead that life models be used for the drawing classes. He left the Academy and moved to Rome, where he lived in poverty. Angelo De Gubernatis, in his 1889 almanac of living artists, quotes assesses Rosso:
(He) rebelled at each school, with each method, with each Academy, abhoring anything that smacked of trade, of artifice, soon found himself alone, without support, without master, without counselors, and with a bunch of captive and envious colleagues who tripped him, when he tried his way and to demonstrate his abilities, his ingenuity. But the Biblical saying Go alone!” did not frighten him, even in those long daily vigils struggling with a whole system which for many years had triumphed, despite the strong supporters of this and that opponent, he felt his strength increase, developed his talent, he conceived a vast new artistic horizon never before seen, and began to work and hold it to the test.
In 1882, Rosso produced his first impressionistic sculptures,The Street Singer and Lovers under the Lamplight. In 1884 some friends arranged an exhibition for him in Paris, where he lived for a time in a cheap boarding-house. He also exhibited that year in Paris at the new Salon des Indépendants. He met Edgar Degas and Rodin. The sculptor and teacher Jules Dalou allowed him to work in his Paris studio.
In 1885 Rosso returned to Milan, but he never lost contact with Paris. He entered a competition in Milan for a funeral monument to the critic Filippo Filippi, and Rosso, who had quickly finished his entry, set it up on the grave without waiting for the judges’ decision. In 1886 the writer Émile Zola bought a bronze by Rosso, who thereby gained a measure of celebrity. Rodin offered to exchange a torso of his own for Rosso’s recent head of a laughing woman. Rosso’s work, praised by Degas, always enjoyed greater esteem in France than in Italy.
Rosso’s constant concern was to translate into solid sculpture the transitory effects of light. So by means of rough, spontaneous modeling he manipulated light and shade in such a way as almost to produce the effect of color. In this process the distinctive characteristics of his material played an increasingly important part. A paraphrase of Gubernatis states:
The rules of art, knowledge, culture, will benefit very well the proportions of a given work …but will never tell you anything, or yield the most applause… or reveal the soul, the expression, the moment with the same truth that is presented to us at that time, under the impression given in the real world… (Rosso’s) Bersagliere at the Paris Salon that is so loved, and so talked about in papers, is a successful head, there is truth, there is expression, there is color. For the artist, it all lies in knowing to choose the right moment to characterize the subject, and this divination, this deep feeling mixed with some knowledge of the individual is the main talent of genius, the hallmark of his work . He is very keen to the idea, the concept. But for an artist to be truly worthy of that name, (he) must first be original. Having an ideas of art, attending one school rather than another, does not say anything. The important thing is to dig in and derive from your brain the first impressions it receives of a work, and render them as you feel and receive them…Medardo Rosso is realist, but only as a realist that renders the enchanting beauty of nature, of feeling, of the heart, representing the vices and virtues, the beautiful and the deformed.
Rosso was able to maintain a studio in Paris and to hold a number of exhibitions. In 1896 he exhibited at the Goupil Gallery in London. He also had a success in New York. In the last twenty years of his life he created no new works, but focused on recasting previous works in different ways. Toward the end of his life he suffered from diabetes and developed cancer in a foot. He made few sculptures after 1900, and died after the amputation of the affected leg.