Luigi Pericle Giovannetti, the forgotten talented mystical painter
Ascona’s return to the world of a lost artist
It’s a late summer afternoon when a phone call comes in the form that has the flavor of a signaling. Go to Ascona, a collection of art has disappeared for decades, a corpus of works by Luigi Pericle Giovannetti, a real treasure that reappears just now. Initially, there is some skepticism: is it really a treasure? And how does the author’s name, Luigi Pericle Giovannetti, tell me absolutely nothing? The appointment at Ascona, on the slopes of Monte Verità, is with Andrea and Greta Biasca-Caroni, they are the owners of the paintings, and begin to tell a story that has incredible and I will try to tell here. Last year, the couple bought a two-storey cottage, where no-one has been stuck for fifteen years. There was a painter who left off in 2001 without leaving heirs, and the house remained as he left it. After the first inspections, the couple realize that they have something in their hands: in the abandoned rooms, among the dusty furnishings, on the shelves of the bookstores, the world of a forgotten artist, paintings, letters and photographs of Luigi Pericle Giovannetti begins to emerge, a painter who for many different reasons today says very little, but who deserves great attention to the intensity of his life and work.
The first inventory speaks of 150 oils and thousands of cardboard, all in good condition. The Biasca-Caroni are curious people and start doing the first research. In the village there are those who have a distant memory of Giovannetti, who led a secluded life, occasionally styled astral profiles and wrote science fiction novels. Among his students, a young Ingeborg Lüscher, Harald Szeemann’s future wife, tells how Giovannetti, who emanated an aura of knowledge, was kind, friendly but always a little distant. This testimony, published on the ticinarte.ch site, only helps us partially to outline the figure of a painter who is difficult to frame in today’s canons, so highly rated to individual specializations. Who was really Giovannetti ? An artist? A philosopher? A mystic? Or all these things together? Andrea and Greta Biasca-Caroni show me the results of their research, and it’s like a big puzzle that is made up under our eyes. Of the family’s origins and the childhood of the artist is still very little, a biographical biographical profile, published on a catalog of the sixties, says it born in the Marche and raised in Basel; he studied art but soon abandoned because he disobeyed school discipline. He has a good hand and finds work by doing the illustrator. Between the end of the 1940s and the following decade he collaborated with important satirical newspapers specializing in the design of animals, including a round and sympathetic marmot, called Max, which at the time was successful. Signing with the last name, Giovannetti, but probably all this is not enough. In 1958, he destroyed the figurative painting work of thirty years, which he never exposed and in which he no longer recognizes, to try new researches. He adopts abstractism, updated on what is happening in Europe in the field of informal art and decides to be known only by the name of “Luigi Pericle”. The turn of the year is 1959, when the Maecenas Peter G. Staechelin begins to become interested in his work: it is the beginning of a partnership that will allow the artist to work with greater tranquility and the collector to acquire a hundred of his works. Staechelin has an important name in the world of Swiss art: Rudolf Staechelin, Peter’s father, boasts a collection of treasures including works by Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, Picasso and Gauguin. The next decade is full of promising meetings: Hans Hess, the York Festival Maker and York Museum Manager, discovers his work and decides to make it known in England. Luigi Pericle’s first exhibition is at Tooth Gallery in London, followed by other exhibitions, always on English soil. He also knows Herbert Read, poet and historian of British art, expert in surrealism and personal counselor of Peggy Guggenheim. Read is not a stranger to Ascona, because he attends Eranos seminars: he is impressed by the painter, who admires the technical skills and the beauty of his works, influenced in his opinion by Oriental spirituality.
In the mid-1960s, ours is an artist who has a bright path, with the support of important figures but … something breaks: Luigi Pericle decides to retire and not expose more, perhaps because of the need for spirituality, or the desire to abandon one world that does not match with him.
Greta and Andrea Biasca-Caroni show me the works of Luigi Pericle found in her home. The paintings speak of an artist who looks at tachisme and neocube, which prefers an essential language and has a small palette to a few tones. Forms are controlled, geometric structures, there seems to be too much room for improvisation. Different flavors, are very free, beautiful and expressive the cards, from which we can infer his interest in the East. Times now seem ripe for a thorough research on the artist, which outlined his biography and allowed him to study the work. I have the impression that we will hear about Luigi Pericle again.
The mysterious rebel who retired at the threshold of success
Ever-celebrated for his marmot Max The painter chose to isolate himself in the villa in Ascona on Verbano lake. The biography of Luigi Pericle Giovannetti is still to be written. It is known that the artist was born in Monterubbiano, a small village in the province of Fermo, in the Marche region, in 1916 by an Italian father and a French mother, and at a young age, presumably with his family, emigrates to Basel. Early talent as a child begins to be interested in painting, enrolled in a school of art but soon shows some dissatisfaction with classical teaching methods and looks for new ways. He is interested in Oriental philosophies and studies ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese civilizations, where she finds inspiration for his art. In the 1950s he devoted himself to the illustration, starting to collaborate with some satirical magazines, such as the Swiss Nebelspalter and the English Punch, for which he invented the Max marmot, which was first published in 1952 and which has undergone a great success. It destroys all of its production from the thirties and forties, but continues to dedicate itself to painting, drawing on colors alone, as did the ancient masters, and also using Chinese special resins and inks. In 1959 he became acquainted with the Swiss collector Peter G. Staechelin, who became his patron and gained an important number of works since then (still today in the Staechelin Collection there are a hundred paintings made by Luigi Pericle Giovannetti). To make him work in great tranquility, Staechelin acquires for Giovannetti and his wife Ursula the Casa Halla (which in Spanish means “discovery”) at the slopes of Monte Verità in Ascona. Under the name of “Luigi Pericle”, between 1962 and 1965 he exhibited several times in England, at the Tooth Gallery in London, contemporary art gallery specializing in some of the great names of European abstractism and informalism, such as Karel Appel, Antonio Saura, Jean Dubuffet, Corneille and Asger Jorn. He exhibited in the national museums of York, Cardiff, Newcastle, Leicester, Hull and Bristol Many of his works end up in British and American private collections such as the one of the daughter of the prime minister of England Alec Douglas Home or Lady Tate (Tate Gallery, London). Still in 1965 he received in Ascona the visit of Herbert Read, former curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Harvard professor and personal adviser to Peggy Guggenheim. A meeting that could really change the artist’s life if it did not make a decision that still remains inexplicable today. For reasons that are unknown to us, Luigi Pericle retires from the scenes and the center of his world becomes Ascona’s home, where he continues to paint until the 1980s, devoting himself to meditation, research and writing, and maintaining however, epistolar contacts with scholars and intellectuals all over the world. In 2001 he died without heirs in Ascona and his house remained closed for fifteen years.
Courier of Ticino 21/10/2017
Thank you very much to :
Raffaella Castagnola Rossini who first understood the importance of this discovery.
Raffaella Castagnola, Director of the Culture and Studies Division of Canton Ticino.
Fabio Pontiggia, director of the Ticino Corriere who personally verified.
Simona Ostinelli who has made this wonderful article. Simona is an art historian and cultural journalist.