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 Romualdo Battista Federico Locatelli  (1905 - 1943)



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Lived/Active: Italy/Indonesia      Known for: society portrait and religious theme painting

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from Auction House Records.
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

ROMUALDO LOCATELLI (Italian, 1905-1943).

Born in Bergamo, Italy, on April 4, 1905, Romualdo Locatelli was the first son of Luigi Locatelli -- a fresco and decorative artist -- who was in turn descended from an artistic family. Locatelli is best known for the society portraits he made during his early years in Italy, and for the portraits and genre scenes he made during his travels in North Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines. He was formally trained as an academic artist, but gradually adopted a more rapid, modern style of paint application.

Locatelli came from a family that had produced cultural notables: the composer Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764) and the painter Andrea Locatelli (1695-1741) whose mythological landscapes have a kinship with those of Claude Lorrain. The family tree also had a streak of madness: Romualdo's paternal great-grandfather and his brother had both been committed to an insane asylum and Romualdo told his wife he did not want children for fear of spreading the "bad seed" that he might carry.

Romualdo's paternal grandfather Giuseppe owned a firm that specialized in decorative painting, and his sons Luigi -- Romualdo's father -- and Giovan Battista worked with him in executing frescoes in numerous Italian churches and palaces. In Romualdo's generation there was an abundance of talent. His younger brothers Raffaello and Stefano became, respectively, a painter and a sculptor who both executed portraits of Pope Giovanni XXIII. Three Locatelli cousins also went on to become well known artists.

As early as age eleven Romualdo Locatelli attended art classes, and his teacher Francisco Domenighini noted him as being an "intelligent and studious boy." In an article that appeared in a Bergamo newspaper in August, 1918 a local art critic commented:"Romualdo Locatelli is a young man who is just over thirteen years old. For me, he is a real phenomenon, because he is already capable of what others can do only after years of study." At the age of fourteen Locatelli assisted his father in executing decorations for the parish church of San Filastro, 25 kilometers from Bergamo.

After attending the Academia Carrara in Bergamo, Locatelli attended another academy at the Palazzo di Brera in Milan. It was there, at age 20, where he met his future wife Erminia who was a 17 year old art student and model who Romualdo painted as the Madonna. At the age of twenty he first exhibited and began to receive critical recognition.

In 1926, Locatelli exhibited "Il Dolore" in a group exhibition at the Palazzo di Brera. An allegorical self-portrait, it shows Locatelli lowering his brushes and palette in a gesture of resignation and respect. The painting was dedicated to his father Luigi who was suffering from cancer when it was made. "Il Dolore" -- now in the collection of the Academia Carrara in Bergamo -- was singled out for mild praise by a critic who found it "romantic," and "not devoid of quality." The painting earned Locatelli, the "Prince Umberto Grand Prize," launching the 20 year old artist's career.

In 1927, Locatelli toured Tunisa, painting "Orientalist" subjects that helped build his reputation. He also painted in Sardinia, Tuscany and Veneto. Although his training was academic, Locatelli's rapid brushwork leaned towards modernist practices, and critics praised his work as "impetuous" and "bold." Locatelli's subjects ranged from genre subjects to society portraits, and his palette was restrained, favoring whites and mineral tones.

Romualdo Locatelli's villa, designed and built between 1930 and 1935 by his friend Architect Giuseppe Pizzigoni was situated on Mount Bastia overlooking Bergamo. Called “La Rotonda”, the locals gossiped that it was a “mad house”. Painted a glistening white, and very beautiful to look at, it appeared to stand sentinel over the mountains.

A unique feature of the villa was its extremely large balcony which jutted out from the structure. There was no visible support of any kind; it just seemed to hang at a frightening height, overlooking the valley below. Only a thin railing was used as a barrier, terrifying some of the artist’s friends and relatives.. The interior walls were white, and the floors were laid with black tile. A high wall surrounded the property, set at intervals with openings similar to the portholes of a ship. A red iron door prevented anyone from the outside from seeing inside, near the studio. Strict privacy was called for when Aldo's models posed in the nude for his compositions.

By the mid-1930s, Locatelli had moved to Rome where he was highly in demand as a society portraitist. His first exhibition in Rome was opened by King Vittorio Emanuele III, whose son later commissioned Locatelli to paint portraits of his children. Locatelli made portraits of several Cardinals and Benito Mussolini reportedly owned at least one Locatelli canvas. Although he cut a glamorous figure, Locatelli was shy in public due to a speech impediment, and he depended on Erminia to deal with his patrons and dealers.

"Romualdo was very good looking but seemed very shy," says Emiliano Marrucchi Locatelli, the artist’s grand-nephew. "Actually he was not shy, but he did not like to talk because of a light stuttering. The fact that he was looking women directly in their eyes without any words made them crazy for him: sometimes. He was a real nonconformist for his time: he refused to wear a formal dress or either a tie when he met His Majesty Umberto di Savoia, and talked to him -- this time he seemed to forget his light stuttering -- directly, without the official words you use when talking to the Royal family. He always seemed very serious, with a perennial dramatic expression on his face, but in the truth, he loved to play irreverent jokes to people, and laugh at them."

On December 28th, 1938, Erminia and Romualdo, an elegant couple dressed in evening clothes, departed from Naples on the "Victoria" for what they hoped would be a 2 year tour of Asia. The invited guests of the colonial governor of the Dutch East Indies, the couple felt a sense of relief as they left the rising political tensions of Italy behind them. Settling initially in Bandung, Java, Romualdo and Erminia were treated like celebrities and feted by local dignitaries. When a Locatelli exhibition opened in Batavia in 1939 Erminia later recalled that "The news that a painter who was the official artist to the Vatican Palace and the Royal House of Italy generated a crowd at the opening."

After satisfying many requests for portraits, the artist and his wife moved on to Bali, establishing a studio in Denpasar, which was the most modern city on the Island. It was there that Locatelli painted the works that ultimately made his reputation. The women of Bali inspired Romualdo -- a sensualist at heart -- and the tones of their skin and hair transformed his palette. One memorable painting is of "Tigah" a model who posed nude in front of a drape of patterned fabric, and who the artist compared to an ancient goddess.

By the time the Locatellis left Bali, Romualdo had sold nearly all his Balinese paintings and endured a bout with dengue fever. With the proceeds from painting sales put into jewels and gems worth more than 50,000 guilders, the couple extended their tour of Asia as ominous events unfolded in Europe. They traveled to Shanghai, then Tokyo where they were feted with a banquet at the Imperial Hotel. Seeing the Italian flag displayed next to the Japanese flag was a reassuring sight.

In Manila, the couple was warmly greeting by both Italian friends and American military officers, and a successful exhibition at Santa Tomas University followed. In the relative quiet before Pearl Harbor, Locatelli painted President Quezon, met Douglas McArthur, and with the help of an American colonel, managed to ship 18 remaining Bali paintings to a gallery in New York.

Even after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, Locatelli's status as an artist seemed to keep him safe. When Japanese authorities admired the paintings by Locatelli they found in the American High Commissioner's office he was asked to paint General Masaharu Homma, with whom the artist had a number of sittings. When General Homma left Manila one morning on a submarine, taking the Locatelli portrait with him, it marked the moment when Locatelli's fortunes began to turn for the worse. "He was so pleased with your work," Locatelli was told by one of the General's Lieutenants.

During the summer of 1942 tensions in occupied Manila, where Romualdo had been keeping a studio on Mabini Street, had been rising as guerrilla groups threatening the Japanese became increasingly active. In response, a new Japanese Military Governor -- General Shizuichi Tanaka -- tightened his hold on Manila's foreign citizens. Although the Japanese and Italians were still technically Axis allies, in late 1942 Tanaka ordered that Manila's Italians be gathered up and made to wear yellow bands that marked them as "traitors."

Locatelli disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the Rizal forest near Manila on February 23, 1943. After Locatelli failed to return from what he had promised would be a 3 hour hike on February 24th, numerous searches of the area where he disappeared were conducted by his wife and later by soldiers sent from Manila by the Japanese Imperial Command. When she got the news of his disappearance in 1943, Romualdo's mother, Angelina Tua Locatelli, refused to consider him dead, and for years rumors came to family that the artist had been spotted alive as far away as Australia.

It is possible that Locatelli was believed to be an Axis spy, and for that reason he may have been targeted by Philippine locals. During the course of the war as many as seventy-five of his works were destroyed in the Japanese firebombing of Manila. Today Locatelli -- despite the rarity of his Asian works -- is considered one of the finest Italian Orientalists.

In 1994 Locatelli's widow, Erminia Locatelli Rogers, published "The Ultimate Voyage of an Italian Artist in the Far East." describing the last years of his life. In her book, the author provides a quote written by critic V. N. De Javabode after his preview of the artist's June, 1939 exhibition in Bandung:

"For Locatelli there are no problems beyond the beauty of the abundance of life. One will find no depth and metaphysical ideas in his work. In a spontaneous manner he reveals the beauty of the body and nature. Here there is no sadness and sorrow that are shown, but their opposite, the beauty and happiness of the world. Here are no complicated voices from a mysterious psyche but here is presented pure pleasure of the senses.”

Museum and Public Collections:
Accademia Carrara Di Belle Arte, Bergamo
Pasifika Museum, Bali
The Savoia Collection, Geneva
The University of Santa Tomas Museum, Manila

"The Ultimate Voyage of an Italian Artist in the Far East." By Erminia Locatelli Rogers, Darga Fine Arts Editions, Jakarta, 1994

John Seed: Correspondence with Locatelli Family members including Daniela Marrucchi, Emiliano Marrucchi Locatelli, and Arthesia Church, Fall 2010.

“Romualdo Locatelli: The Artist Who Disappeared” by John Seed, The Huffington Post, December 9, 2011

John Seed,,

Biography from Tobin Reese Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Romualdo Locatelli was born in Bergamo, Italy in 1905. He was descended from a well-known family that had already produced several renowned artists, including the 18th Century composer Pietro Antonio Locatelli and the painter Andrea Locatelli. His father was Luigi Locatelli, a renowned fresco and decorative artist, who had in turn been trained by his own father. Locatelli’s grandfather owned a firm that specialized in decorative painting and was credited with creating frescos in numerous churches and palaces in the Bergamo region. By the age of fourteen he was assisting his father and grandfather with the decoration of a church in San Filastro.

Locatelli first attended Academia Carrara in Bergamo, and then was further schooled at Palazzo di Brera in Milan. It was here that he would meet his future wife Erminia, a young art student and model who he would one day paint as The Madonna.

In 1926 he exhibited Il Dalore, a painting done in honor of his father, at the Palazzo di Brera. Today, the painting is held at Academia Carrara in Bergamo, and is considered the work that set his artistic career in motion. Locatelli travelled to Tunisia in 1929, where painted Orientalist subjects, and then moved on to Sardinia, Tuscany and Veneto. During this time Locatelli’s paintings reflected a modernistic style, and his subjects varied from genre topics to society paintings. In the 1930s Locatelli moved to Rome where he became a successful society portraitist, and his first exhibition in the city was a grand success.

Late in 1938 he and his wife sailed from Rome on a tour of Asia. They stayed for a time in Java, but eventually moved on to Bali, where they established a studio in the city of Denpasar. The women of Bali inspired Locatelli, and brought out a sensuality in his painting such as that expressed in the portrait Tigah. He also made memorable paintings of Legong Dance, which in Balinese culture is amongst the most traditional dances. His 1939 painting Legong Dancer is considered a late Orientalist masterpiece.

In the months before Pearl Harbor, Locatelli and his wife left Bali and traveled to Shanghai, Tokyo, and then Manila, where he was able to have nearly twenty of his Balinese paintings shipped to a gallery in New York City. After the Japanese invaded the Philippines Locatelli’s status seemed to keep him safe for a time, but after crackdowns on Italians and other foreigners on the island the situation in Manila quickly worsened. On February 24th, 1943, Romualdo Locatelli went missing while out on a walk in the countryside and was never seen from again.

Jeff Blackwell for Tobin Reese Fine Art

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