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 Emilio Pettoruti  (1892 - 1971)

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Lived/Active: Argentina      Known for: painting

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Emilio Pettoruti (1892-1971)

He departed the port of Buenos Aires for Italy on August 7, 1913, setting out on what would be a deeply stimulating, eleven-year encounter with the European avant-garde.  Leaving the "land of my parents and of all of my ancestors," he reminisced in his autobiography, he sailed first to Rio de Janeiro--where he "went from one surprise to another, as someone opening his eyes to a magical world"--and then on to Dakar before disembarking at Genoa a month later.(1)

Pettoruti settled first in Florence, where he stayed until 1917, and then sojourned briefly in Rome before establishing himself in Milan, which became his primary base until his return to Argentina in July 1924.  He was able to travel more easily within Europe after the war ended, and in the latter years of his stay he journeyed to Austria, Germany and France, exhibiting at Berlin's prestigious Der Sturm gallery in 1923 and meeting the Salon Cubists in Paris the following year.  Pettoruti's early engagement with Cubism and Futurism would yield rich dividends, and by the end of his time abroad he had begun to cultivate an idiosyncratic language of expressionism in paintings distinguished for their inventive spatial and formal analysis.

The Milan that Pettoruti met in the fall of 1917 was but a shadow of the anarchic Futurist city of 1910, however, and its retrenchment from the bellicose nihilism of the recent past would soon be accompanied by a revaluation of the earlier avant-garde.  Pettoruti arrived just before the disaster of Caporetto, a moment in which the specter of war loomed unnervingly near, as he acknowledged in his memoir; but he delighted in the artistic ambience of the city and was quickly adopted by the Milanese intelligentsia, who welcomed him into their café culture and exhibition circle.  Milan would soon emerge as the seat of a classicizing movement known as the Novecento, and Pettoruti's friendship with many of the group's principals--among them, Raffaello Giolli, Margherita Sarfatti and particularly Piero Marussig--resulted in his admission as socio pittore into the Famiglia Artistica, a cultural society to which many of the future Novecentisti belonged.   The group's reaffirmation of traditional artistic values resonated with the classicizing interests of Pettoruti's own work at the time, which "depended increasingly on a schematic use of line and rigorous geometric proportion," Edward Sullivan has observed.  Sullivan singles out the splendid oval-shaped painting L'Istitutrice as "particularly relevant in assessing his tendency toward greater simplicity"; and like a related ink study suggests the artist's "ability to suggest the human form within space through the use of extremely reduced means."(2)  In both the painting and the drawing, the Cubist element is distilled through a balanced matrix of diagonal planes and flat-patterned decorative designs that signal Pettoruti's mature, Constructivist approach to composition.  "The intersection of planes within the oval support creates a network of formal equivalences and directional balance," Miguel Ángel Muñoz has remarked.  "The dynamism of each diagonal is offset by the compact symmetry of the composition. Indeed, one of the clearest signs of the recuperation of classical values in Pettoruti's painting is the importance now given to the problems of composition, which becomes the central focus of his pictorial practice."(3)

E. Pettoruti, Un pintor ante el espejo, Buenos Aires, Librería Histórica, 2004, 27, 29. 2) E. J. Sullivan, Emilio Pettoruti (1892-1971), Buenos Aires, Fundación Pettoruti, Asociación Amigos del Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and La Marca Editora, 2004, 68, 74, 76. 3) M. A. Muñoz, "Emilio Pettoruti," Art Nexus 34, November 1999-January 2000, 76-83.

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