The figure of Lorenzo Peretti Junior (1871-1953) is a complex one, from both an artistic and a human point of view.
He decided to dedicate himself entirely to painting after the death in 1889 of his father Bernardino (of whom Lorenzo, working from a photograph, would make an astonishing portrait in the style of Cézanne around 1894). Bernardino was also a painter, the descendant of a dynasty of artists (the Perettis of Buttogno), and linked to one of the great exponents of French pictorial culture whose roots were in Italy, in the Vigezzo Valley: Antonio Maria Cotti. The talented young man, who had already received an art education as a matter of course within the four walls of home, enrolled in the classes at the Rossetti Valentini School of Fine Arts taught by the painters Cavalli, father and son.
At the age of nineteen, in 1890, Lorenzo Peretti Junior took his first course, which had no doubt also been a formative experience for his future associates who had already trained at the mountain academy of Santa Maria Maggiore: Carlo Fornara (his own age) first and foremost, Giovanni Battista Ciolina, Gian Maria Rastellini (already an independent painter as of 1889) and the older, little-known Maurizio Borgnis.
Thus his friendship with Fornara, destined to grow stronger over the years, began as they listened to the words of Enrico Cavalli, under the aegis of an artistic renewal which, if it kindled the dreams of the young colleagues and induced them to fantasise about success and fame, must also have imposed on Peretti the sacrifice of almost totally abandoning the teachings of his father, as the result of the new and in many ways tyrannical pedagogy practised with complete dedication by Enrico Cavalli. The academicism and overly cold correctness of so much of the French classicist school gave way to the sign, the inventive fury and the full-blooded warmth of Cavalli’s unique yet always new syntax.
However, the friendly. comradely relationship he established with his contemporary Carlo Fornara would not be allowed to affect either's freedom of artistic choice; it was understood, as in an unwritten pact, that the directions of their work and the labours of their research would be completely autonomous (as would indeed be the case).
Peretti spent the two years of apprenticeship at the School of Fine Arts in Santa Maria Maggiore in an atmosphere of feverish experimentation, emotional tensions and brilliant new discoveries. Two fruitful years (1890 - 1892) for the young Peretti, two years that would mature his talent and temper his character; the artist seems to have been uncompromising and reserved, but also extremely concrete and above all endowed with a quick and brilliant intelligence.
Peretti's first real interests emerged during the course of his studies: he felt a strong affinity with the approach of Antonio Fontanesi (the exhibition dedicated to the painter from Reggio Emilia by the city of Turin in 1892 was probably a revelation for Peretti, as it was for Fornara), closer to the free gestuality of Auguste Ravier during the Morestel period; the materic and constructional dynamics of Adolphe Monticelli, his partitioning of space and intrinsic geometries capable of completely supplanting any academic notions about the form of objective space cleared the way for an emotional, poetic subjectivity which by no means precluded openness to a scientific elaboration of light and a conscious, truly sensory perception of space.
Curious and enterprising in his research, Peretti was helped by Enrico Cavalli to find the real core of his inspiration, to understand himself and to truly understand his personality as an artist; he was the last of Cavalli's students, in chronological order, and perhaps the best loved. Everything seemed already systematised, and the highly articulated culture Peretti developed out of the experience was due only to the young painter's extraordinary sensitivity. Cavalli talked about the history of painting and experimented with the great innovations, he brought the colour choices of the old masters to life emotionally: Veronese and Tiziano, Tintoretto and Tiepolo, reread always through the filter of Delacroix, whose lessons had been conveyed to him intact by the very sophisticated reading of Guichard, to whom he also owed his knowledge of Rembrandt and the synoptic Italianising insights of Rubens.
Naturally, Cavalli could not but transmit to his students the aesthetic and emotional values of Impressionism (his virtually constant contact with the French circles undoubtedly favoured his evaluation of their merit), but in his work as a painter there remained equally alive the petite sensation brought back from that world of the South of France, between Provence, the Dauphiné, the Savoy and the Alpilles, which had left its mark on his soul. And Cézanne inevitably entered and became part of his Olympus, even though that name (far from well-known at the time, except for his tempestuous relations with Zola) practically evoked blasphemy, obviously because of the so deliberately incorrect way he painted, more intent on the mental construction of geometric solids than an accurate representation of planes, forms and spaces.
Lorenzo Peretti was very knowledgeable and tended to expand that knowledge almost to excess. His journeys, undertaken throughout his life in a spirit of aristocratic reserve, his purchases of material for his library and his studies and research, not only in the field of art but also of philosophy and even psychoanalysis, made Peretti the painter a true connoisseur of art, an expert of great sensitivity, a conscious experimenter fully involved in the concerns of the twentieth-century art world, and a true art critic, as Cavalli had wished.
In 1892, with the death of Carlo Giuseppe Cavalli and the distressing events surrounding the succession to the chair of Painting, Drawing and Ornamentation at the Rossetti Valentini School of Fine Arts, the small mountain academy effectively chose stagnation and consequently an inexorable decline. However, this created yet another important opportunity for those who had been his best students, a chance to broaden their horizons and leave the valley that had cradled their hopes, now deprived of the stimulus of Enrico Cavalli, abandoned to his fate by insensitive detractors woefully ignorant of all the major artistic innovations.
For Lorenzo Peretti Junior it opened up the prospect of discovering French culture, or better still, France itself, in the company of his master Cavalli and his friend Carlo Fornara.
Their journey to Provence, Lyon and Paris, in 1893, was ultimately a proving ground and an unrepeatable opportunity. A datable (1892) and unequivocal proof of the technical expertise already achieved by twenty-one year old Lorenzo Peretti Junior is his Natura morta con frutta e due bicchieri [Still Life with Fruit and Two Glasses] (oil on cardboard, 46 x 39 cm). The work definitely marked a point of arrival: the teachings of his father Bernardino, the worthy painter of still lifes, were upended by a very modern organisation of the planes and the luxurious splendour of the paternal draperies and colours countered by a rough, almost metaphysical, simplicity that captures the semantic essence of the objects, leaving nothing implied or unexpressed, in a sort of absolute perception. As for technique, Cavalli seems to have made inroads: the colour is applied in wide, dense, generous stripes. The taste for Tonalism the master had imparted to his best students reappears with moderation, mitigated by the customary scraping with a sharp piece of glass to scratch and erode the almost completely dry coloured impasto. The result is a tormented, scarred and lacerated pictorial pellicle, resembling a beach strewn with jagged gravel. The high background reveals the way it was prepared: wide palette knife strokes of chromatic material have been left to dry then covered with light, purposeful marks, also made with a palette knife, swiftly applied to create nuances and signs, as though a wind had skimmed the surface then continued on its way unperturbed.
Seven years after the death of Adolphe Monticelli, the itineraries of the spirit that had shaped the powerful artistic maturity of Enrico Cavalli were being redefined. Provence with the heirs of the Marseilles school and the still completely unexplored world of Puvis de Chavannes, visible in the staircase of the Musée des Beaux Arts in Marseilles, as in Lyon. Diem and Vernay, Carrand and Seignemartin. Ravier and his Italian contacts with Fontanesi, the stylistic intermediary of the Rivara School; reflections on Charles Daubigny and the later philosophy of the Barbizon movement, with Constant Troyon, only possible after viewing the publicly exhibited paintings assembled as civic collections by the city of Marseilles and the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence.
And then Lyon, at whose Musée Cavalli and Fornara exercised their skills by composing two d'après: the first reprised the Danae (oil on canvas, 24 x 18.5 cm) by Domenico Tintoretto (which Enrico Cavalli believed was obviously a painting by Jacopo Robusti), the second revisited Tintoretto with The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine (oil on canvas, 61 x 39 cm). There was also no lack of opportunity to engage in a decidedly stimulating fashion with both Delacroix and the Ruysdaelian François Michel, or with only apparently older terrains of thought: Géricault and the extremely modern style of his portraits of the insane.
And finally Paris. The ferments of the French capital had already substantially signalled the decline of Impressionism, which gave way to ever new subsequent formulas: Pointillism, the research of Gauguin, and a more analytical and scientific evaluation of light, even on the part of historic Impressionists like Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir. The experiences of Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh, with their consequent stylistic innovations and techniques; the desiccation of form expressed in the works of Puvis that would suggest mono-dimensionality to Matisse; discussions about the painters of Pont-Aven, who would be referenced by both Fornara, in La Sorella Marietta davanti alla Chiesa del Lazzaretto a Prestinone [The Artist's Sister in front of the Church of the Lazzaretto in Prestinone] (1894), Paesaggio con padre e sorella [Landscape with the Artist's Father and Sister] (1894)and Le lavandaie [The Washerwomen] (1898), and by Ciolina (who visited France only later, but was certainly well-informed as a result of dialectical discussions with his colleagues) in L'ombrellino rosso [The Little Red Umbrella] (1895); the increasingly evident affirmation of Japanese-style solutions, very close to the Ukiyo-e technique (the inversion of perspectival data, the flattening of space to a single dimension), tempered by an assumed or genuinely inspired symbolism.
In Paris, Peretti, the tireless and talented critic, the interested visitor of exhibitions and discerning hunter of the new, was able to fully grasp the modern and revolutionary flavour of Pointillism, the dot technique of Seurat and Signac, who quite independently seem to have reprised in new ways the insights expressed by the touch of Monticelli and François Miel, insights also defined by the larger and more substantial patches of colour employed by Cézanne himself (at least until the Nineties) and in the almost chalk-like roughness of Puvis's touch; experiences that tend to confirm the hypothesis (to which we must inevitably return) of an autochthonous genesis of Divisionism in Valle Vigezzo.
Paris, then, as the last frontier of knowledge, the privileged locus of the affirmation and diffusion of avant-garde thought. And above all, the unrepeatable opportunity to discuss and debate with maestro Cavalli and with his friend Carlo Fornara these works of the future and the most controversial and scandalous techniques.
A new journey to France in 1894 brings us to the period of momentous decisions: Mattina d'ottobre [October Morning] by Carlo Fornara is dated 1893, while Prestinone d'autunno [Prestinone in Autumn], a work by Lorenzo Peretti in the style of Fontanesi, is datable to 1894 itself. In their homages to Fontanesi and Auguste Ravier, the two friends seem to have engaged in a sort of competition to overcome the limits imposed by the masters of the old tradition of Constable and the Romantics, so the importance of their stay in Lyon must be acknowledged, together with a stylistic revision heavily influenced by the explosive language of gesture and sign of the Morestel and Crémieu artists.
A second and decisive stage in the development of a specific language by the students of Enrico Cavalli and all the pictorial culture of the Val Vigezzo was signalled yet again by a work by Carlo Fornara: En plein air, dated 1897. But apart from this painting, in many ways fundamental in clearing a path to modernity for an entire artistic phenomenology based on the final and extraordinary stylistic upheaval brought about by Delacroix, what must be emphasised in parallel is the evolutionary path of Giovanni Battista Ciolina, which seems, in complete counterpoint to Peretti Junior, to still reflect the poetic world and indeed perhaps the last cry of Cavalli's most personal and heartfelt teaching.
Ciolina must also be mentioned in relation to the development of Peretti's research, because he very probably influenced his style and was influenced in his turn by the emerging talent of Toceno.
Effetto di luce nel bosco [Effect of Light in the Woods], a picture painted by Giovanni Battista Ciolina in 1894, unequivocally marks out the path on which Peretti had also embarked with Ritratto del padre Bernardino [Portrait of the Artist's Father Bernardino], the splendid result of applying thick dots to generate pulsations of light and colour, but also with works like Sottobosco [Undergrowth], whose chromatic and spatial partitioning shows the influence of Segantini (and of the culture immediately preceding Divisionism), or Ultima neve [The Last Snow] (a tiny masterwork in oils on a 21 x 16.5 cm board), in which the lesson inherent in Enrico Cavalli's work Villette has been completely absorbed and re-elaborated. The first Ritratto della sorella [Portrait of the Artist's Sister], not yet executed according to the Divisionist formulas, and the Autoritratto giovanile [Youthful Self-Portrait] must also be assigned to the three-year period that was decisive for the artist's development of a full and autonomous self-awareness: 1894 - 1897. In all these works, a partitioning of space dominated by a single plane and a sort of airy, vibrant two-dimensionality (created by minute touches or broad strokes of the palette knife) has replaced the faithful re-elaboration of Fontanesi's (obviously not the extreme Fontanesi) sequences of trees like stage wings or compositions based on chromatic-spatial insight.
Light is no longer constructed in the Flemish style, as in the Bottega del calderaio [The Tinker's Workshop] which Fornara, in a burst of pride and following in the footsteps of master Cavalli and a work of his already inflected by the lessons of Fromentin, titled La Lettura [Reading], had successfully submitted to the first Triennale of Brera. All the Milanese reflections of Gian Maria Rastellini (who was never an integral part of the trio of true innovators: Fornara, Peretti himself and Ciolina) seem to have been secondary for the painter from Toceno, by then the only one who remained extremely faithful to the methods and teachings of Enrico Cavalli.
Rastellini, a talented student, had by then almost abandoned the path traced out by Cavalli, though he remained a very dear friend. His was a sort of intelligent linkage of the lessons of the French and Monticelli to the all-Italian innovations of the Lombard milieu. Not a betrayal of his origins, never that, but perhaps precisely what Cavalli, had he not been driven away from his school, would have put into practice. In his happiest years, between 1885 and 1891, the maestro of Santa Maria had a very clear endgame in mind: the conjugation of the French experiences with Italian painting. He introduced many artists of the Italian peninsula to his students, not only the Lombards – the most important of whom were Raffaello Giolli
and Francesco Paolo Michetti – and the Emilian Bruzzi, though first and foremost Morelli, offering them as examples which he reprised and had his pupils reprise in scholastic d'après, works that were often of an excellent professional standard.
Perhaps Peretti, for this ambitious and complex pedagogic project, cared not at all. The painting of the French moved him the most deeply, possessing him completely with the freedom that enabled the most sophisticated scientific studies of light and optics to be combined with the full, divine liberty to create by means of signs, of autographic polysemes that were unique and very personal, unlike the sometimes cloying creations of the Italians. They could call him a pupil of the pupils of Monticelli or a Divisionist in the making if they liked, it mattered very little to him!
And Peretti's Divisionism would arrive on its own, without passing through reverent homage to the many acolytes of Segantini, because he had assimilated the painting of pure light in Paris in the years 1893-1894 from Seurat and the earliest Signac, not from Nomellini or Morbelli, skilled and talented though they were, but very far, for Peretti, from embodying the intellectual freedom that substantially shaped his own creative output.
Divisionism: the history of a rejection
Technical cages and schematicisms of thought
That Lorenzo Peretti was a Divisionist painter or, at any rate, well integrated into that species of initially spontaneous then increasingly confessional group to which Morbelli, Nomellini and its great inspirer Gaetano Previati belonged, only after having taken the place of the unfortunate Pellizza da Volpedo, is no secret any longer.
But perhaps it was precisely the group discipline that he found disagreeable: the feeling obliged to use a certain technique, constrained by a common thought, by an equally common political if not social creed, regimented. Divisionism was the child of science, but not a gay science; in fact, it derived from positivist radicalism and faith in human destiny, both of which could irremediably imprison art. Especially painting, the least scientific of all the arts.
And even though a free and extraordinary spirit like Segantini had set out the loftiest interpretation of the Divisionists' artistic-scientific message in Italy and in Europe, inspired and never weakened by his creed, the painter from Arco remained an absolute, isolated case. It was pointless to be the epigones of an unrepeatable event; pointless to engage with the products of that event.
Lorenzo Peretti's reflections on one of the crucial questions of his life, the development of his own art, must have been, if not precisely identical, of this order. A significant clue to this complex, epochal passage in Peretti's experimentation, always in a sense spiritually if not directly related to his master Enrico Cavalli, is the second Ritratto della sorella [Portrait of the Artist's Sister] datable to the year 1898.
The painting is based decisively on two clearly differentiated modules: a technique involving the application of small lumps of clotted, opaque matter used to render the face, where light becomes multifaceted according to a chromatic evaluation based only on the inherent characteristics of the material, counterposed to a similar but not identical technique where finely ground charcoal mixed with graphite, suspended as impurities in an unsaturated solution, is used to render the mass of the hair, against a whitish chalky ground animated by startling scratches, slashes or punctures made with a palette knife, or, once again, lines incised with a piece of glass. These vivify the chroma, by removing or leaving, tormenting and infinitely varying the luminosity, modulated by nervous signs and the large areas of ground visible in the dress, barely sketched out in closed severe geometries that leave a great deal of space to the burnished cardboard support, placed deliberately in full view. A Divisionist technique coupled with another more traditional technique, more linked to the sign, to the uncontrolled gesture. This happens in another work by Giovanni Battista Ciolina which is decisive for a synoptic reading of the experiments carried out by the Rossetti Valentini students under Enrico Cavalli's guidance: Filo spezzato [The Broken Thread] (oil on canvas, 230 x 170 cm), dated 1897. The genesis of this work was a complex one and not only because of the iconographic-literary symbolism the artist wanted to develop within it. It was a matter of formally conciliating two different spirits, two apparently irreconcilable modes of experiencing painting: the division technique and the free gestures of traditional painting, an expression of an older, realistic approach. Ciolina succeeded, albeit at the price of a deep and lacerating inner struggle; the chromatic wave treated in divided tones that embraces the fourth figure of the group, the old woman, the third age of life, asleep in a sleep of death, had to be memorable. His experimentation was echoed in a work by Enrico Cavalli dated 1898. How urgent and complex the desire to travel new roads was, through experimentation that did not snap to a halt at the orders of any artists' stable, is shown by the Nudo a mezzo busto [Nude, Head and Torso] (oil on canvas, 45 x 52 cm) which, apart from being an iconographic d'après (the source is Rêverie [Dreaming] by Charles Chaplin, a painter who was twenty years older than Cavalli), signalled that Cavalli had taken an important, even if transitory, position.
The artist seems to have wanted to disavow yet again the rigidity of axioms and scientific rules to embark on a segmented juxtaposition of pure timbric and tonal values; a completely new form with radiating streaks of matter, clearly a synthesis of Divisionist stylistic elements, in which the principal datum, light, could be inferred and self-generated through a rhythm punctuated by signs and the depth of their incision, played out between the dense surface of thick coloured impasto, the broad gestures of the palette knife and the support.
Thus, between 1897 and 1898, some of the scenarios that Val Vigezzo painting would shape in Italy at the time were decided. Lorenzo Peretti was at the centre of those speculative reflections; his was certainly an important voice. However, we are obliged to ask what positions were taken by Carlo Fornara in the debate. And so... Fornara?
The scandal aroused by the work En plein air (oil on canvas, 145 x 190 cm) in 1897 and the interest manifested by the Divisionist platoon, proportional to the harshness of some truly unjust criticism, had placed Carlo Fornara on a sort of pedestal: an artist maudit who swam against the tide on the one hand, a painter of the future and courageous precursor on the other. The day of recognition, the hour of the scandal that brought about the ideal deliverance he had yearned for since the years of schooling had indeed come to pass; it was now a matter of being able to take advantage of the opportunity, otherwise it would not be Italy and Europe showering him with applause, but a path of no return to slow death and oblivion. The figure of Enrico Cavalli and his misfortunes stood like the ghost of Banquo before Fornara's eyes. And Fornara made his choice; the right choice, if the eulogies of Umberto Boccioni reached his ears in those years, louder perhaps than the prudish admiration of Pellizza.
In the "audaciousness of the colour relationships, of a barbarously dissonant stamp", as the jurors of the Third Triennale di Brera were to write, lay the entire lesson of the French experience, but also and most importantly a constructional solidity reminiscent of Monticelli and his technique designed to construct the figure with and for colour. The only plane is the result of an inversion of the image and the volumes; weights are harmonized in an equilibrium of luminescences and shadows.
Obviously Lorenzo Peretti took note, we may believe with complete satisfaction, of the success that projected his friend Fornara into the centre of controversy and the heart of avant-garde poetics. But his spiritual world, his personal artistic research, his multi-faceted and paroxystically sophisticated interests took him elsewhere: he could not be fettered by the rules, albeit golden, of Divisionism.
Painting could not and should not become scientific. What had to prevail in a pictorial work was that vital impetus which, like a substratum of consciousness, turns sentiment into form, substance and sign. And then, if truth be told, given his caustic, rebellious nature, as irreverent as only someone with a higher intelligence can be, with Vittore Grubicy or any other gallerist there could be no glimmer of an understanding. Peretti could not renounce that noble trait of his: an anarchic freedom, truly übermensch, which was the essence of his inspiration.
The works "Bosco dei druidi [The Woods of the Druids]" (circa 1898) and "Conversazione campestre [Conversation in the Fields]" were his response to the propositions of the Divisionists.
In the silence of his studio, fatigued perhaps by the intense debate which undoubtedly took place after Fornara's succès de scandale, the painter from Buttogno elaborated a stylistic rectitude made of sophisticated architectures, specular references and increasingly daring innovations. The first work cited already contains all those anticipations which, like the pre-Divisionist expressionism of Fornara, would shape the work of Arturo Tosi in his alcoholic period, the weaker style of Vittorio Castagneto and, in its anticipations of abstract expressionism, give rise, by other roads and through other research (the Expressionism of the Blaue Reiter) though on the same principle, to the pure poetry of Nicolas De Staël's work.
Lorenzo Peretti knew himself to be a sort of alchemist poised on the brink of oblivion or of obviousness, but still capable of setting out, through experimentation, towards uncharted shores that would have to completely satisfy his indomitable spirit.
In Conversazione campestre [Conversation in the Fields] (oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm), reference to the ancient iconography of the Sacred Conversation is combined with stark graphic effects that seem almost to inscribe the Symbolist lesson of Puvis de Chavannes. But in this work there is also that touch of one-dimensional figuration, of the sign restrained by the discipline of the short, segmented and apparently dotted and divided line which would meet with great success in the evolution of post-Pointillist painting in the France of Matisse.
This was the solitary and courageous response of Lorenzo Peretti Junior to what by then was consolidated Divisionist thought. The death of Segantini at the end of the century would determine the rest.
The non-finito and the roots of an Expressionism at the limits of the Informal
What happened after 1899 and what transpired in terms of personal fortunes and misfortunes, including those of friends from the past, seemed a matter of indifference to Peretti. Certainly not or not only because of coldness of character, much more probably because of his firm intention not to get overly involved in events that would have eroded his focus, drained and disheartened him. Exhilarating events replete with triumph for Carlo Fornara, on the way to being considered (perhaps reductively) the disciple of the inimitable and epic creator Segantini. Events less abounding in artistic gratification for Giovanni Battista Ciolina, who was preparing to revise his Milanese projects (even though he kept his studio open in the Lombard city until the year 1914); a sensitive poet and refined colourist but, especially in this phase, not always able to peremptorily decide on the line to take or arm himself with the necessary fighting spirit. And it was also true that in that fateful but exhilarating year, Ciolina had produced one of the sublime masterpieces of Divisionism, Donna che guarda dalla finestra [Woman Looking Out the Window] (oil on canvas, 98 x 64 cm), perhaps the most perfect work, in terms of balancing inspiration and iconographic rendering, of all the production of the turn of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, since he could not count on the support of the Grubicy Gallery, formerly the promoter of Segantini and now engaged with Fornara, and was forced to rely on a clientele not channelled directly to him and therefore only occasional, albeit of excellent taste, he wavered.
In the end, Enrico Cavalli.
His star, so bright only ten years before, seemed to be setting at the dawn of the Third Venice Biennale. His painting was considered at once too modern by the foolish detractors of the Vigezzo Valley, close-minded and still enslaved to nineteenth-century thought, as was the entire province of Novara, and eclipsed by the times and the fashions, according to the most forceful judgements of connoisseurs and collectors both in northern Italy and his beloved south of France.
And Cavalli had serious financial problems too, so was forced to resign himself to a practice of painting that privileged the métier to the detriment of research: his not new, but terrible personal drama.
If an artist can work for himself, defying the limits of his knowledge or the boundaries set by critics and the inevitable judgements, sometimes harsh, sometimes hasty, made by a public in many cases devoid of education and information; if an artist is content to make discoveries and, with no need to sell, does not exhibit his work or show it to anyone; if an artist is so cultured that he has discovered the very essence of his potential creative will and wants to translate it into acting in complete freedom from the bonds of a common poetics or collective interventions, then that artist, at the cost of being labelled a misanthropist, will have perhaps discovered the principle of his equilibrium.
After definitively abandoning Divisionism, Peretti paused to reflect. Perhaps at this stage his reflections on the non-finito (unfinished) came to assume almost theoretical connotations. Always in Peretti's works one encounters a mode of painting whose raison d'être is primarily the preparatory sketches. Parts left out or unfinished, the masking or flattening of colour, superimposed signs, completely different techniques made to coexist within a single work. And this was always a conscious choice, determined by a precise intention: to involve the viewer (in reality non-existent, because embodied by the artist-agent himself), to provoke him, to embarrass him. If, at times, the artist's chromatic scales verged on the aristocratic product of a perception anything but simple, his iconographic and gestural inventiveness was in any case subordinated to a well worked-out calculation of how to exploit, functionally as well, the incomplete.
Interrupting a work, not completing it, also had a spiritual significance and a philosophical dimension that can be traced back to Platonic speculation, revisited through the thought of Plotinus and emergent in the Renaissance with Michelangelo, and also, for the erudite Peretti, in the techniques of El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, not to mention Constable.
By this time, the most important forces guiding the artistic acts of this isolated genius with an extremely refined palate were philosophical thought and speculation.
Painting is nothing other than the final act of a sort of mental decantation, a distillation of sensations and perceptions that have indeed to do with aesthetics, understood as the quest for beauty, but also with consciously developed critical faculties.
The fact that Peretti did not show his works, as his master Cavalli had occasion to lament, seems quite logical now in the light of the rigorously elitist choice he wanted to make in complete autonomy and freedom.
This perspective enables us to understand the essence of certain still lifes of impressively evocative power and an almost Morandian essentiality. At times metaphysical, with latent tensions that seem to mark out paths destined to be clarified later by Carlo Carrà and the Novecentismo of the Turin Gruppo dei Sei with the moral support of Casorati, Peretti anticipated, with striking flashes of insight, as in the splendid Frazione alpina [Alpine Village] (oil on board, 11 x 17 cm, 1920 ca.), the painting of form with essential fragments of language, tesserae of colour and geometric, arid patches of matter (after experiences with the abstract and the informal) carried out by a genius of the 1950s named Nicolas de Staël, and in Italy by the work of a Lombard follower of the Lombard-Val Vigezzo painter Arturo Tosi: Ennio Morlotti.
Of undeniable value in this very personal research, far removed by then from the lessons of Val Vigezzo though never uprooted from the teachings of Enrico Cavalli, were the journeys he regularly made to France and Germany throughout the Twenties and Thirties. Peretti was a vigilant, totally attentive and focused spirit when engaged in research; a true critical temperament for whom art, one's own and that of others, was to be lived as a kind of priesthood of the absolute.
His encounter with the thought of Steiner and with Kardec, his reading of Eliphas Levi and the Buddhist and yogic texts, and his exploration of the non-systematic Western philosophies led the artist to an inner freedom ultimately devoid of rationalistic constraints and expressed as pure insight, which in Valle Vigezzo
would have its epigone in an Expressionist sui generis, the problematic Giuseppe Magistris (1911-1967); the freedom Lorenzo Peretti Junior had yearned for since painting a splendid unfinished work titled Lavandaie alla Lanca di Toceno [Washerwomen at the Oxbow Lake near Toceno] (oil on cardboard, 41.5 x 53.5 cm), of a poetry tempered by essential touches and faded washes reminiscent of Semeghini, an illustrious anticipation of the extraordinary poetics of De Pisis, yet a work created in the early years of the twentieth century (because of its compositional characteristics and stylistic concomitants, it can be dated no later than 1902).
Only the reconstruction of the Papetti library, one of the most interesting in the whole Vigezzo Valley, sadly dismembered and lost now, which was put together and organised after Peretti's death by the person who had remained perhaps his most faithful friend, could tell us about the painter's critical activity and provide us with a good broad explanation of his artistic methods of work and all the complex and, in some cases, at least to a superficial eye, totally disconcerting choices he made.
We are forced to admit it. Lorenzo Peretti Junior had the only fortune an artist can wish for: he never had to come to terms with the public and still less with the critics. A painter who deliberately chooses not to exhibit or show anyone his work, especially if he has had masters of the stature of Enrico Cavalli, will be able to reach the highest levels of pure unfettered inspiration, without wasting time, without deviating from a predetermined line to please a client or out of the need to earn a living. In Peretti, the achievements and illusions of Enrico Cavalli's school were synthesised in a sort of uncontaminated purity; what it was, with a precise historical record, but also everything it might have been and never did become.
Text by Dario Gnemmi
Taken from The French Vigezzini. Painting of the Alps and beyond in the Vigezzo Valley at the turn of the 20th century .
Skira Editore, Milan 2007.