Gino Severini was born in Cortona on 7 April 1883. After his studies at the local Scuola Tecnica, he arrived in Rome in 1899 where he attended the Scuola libera del Nudo at the Accademia and evening classes in drawing at the Villa Medici. He befriended Umberto Boccioni, Sergio Corazzini and Duillio Cambellotti, with whom he shared an interest in socialist ideas and philosophy. Together with Boccioni, he spent time at Giacomo Balla’s studio, who introduced him to the Divisionist technique. In 1905, after being turned down from exhibiting at the ‘Art Enthusiasts and Collectors’ exhibition, he organised a ‘Rejects Exhibition’ in the foyer of the Teatro Costanzi.
In 1906 he was in Paris where he came into contact with exponents of the avant-garde, amongst whom Amedeo Modigliani, Juan Cris, George Braque and Pablo Picasso, as well as the poets Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire and Paul Fort, whose daughter he married in 1913. He doesn’t, however, break contact with Italy and – asked by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti – in April 1910 he signed The Technical Manifesto of the Italian Futurist painters. He did so even if following his signing he specified feeling greater affinity with the French theories on the division of colour than with the ‘aesthetic of the machine’ propagated by Italian Futurism.
In February 1912, Severini participated in a Futurist exhibition at the Gallery Bernheim-Jeune, and then at the same Futurist exhibition in London in 1913; in the same year he set up two solo shows at the Marlborough Gallery in London and at the Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin. At the same time he became interested in Cubist experimentation, whilst remaining faithful to a dynamic representation of the object, as shown in the two figures of the dancers.
During 1913 and 1914 he lived in Italy before returning to Paris at the start of the First World War. His paintings inspired by the war emerge during this period, evoking cubo-futurism, and are exhibited in 1916 for a solo show at the Gallery Bernheim-Jeune. It was during this period that Severini began research into a scientific method of artistic representation, influenced by Amédée Ozenfant and pure formalism. Above all, he manifested a precocious interest for a resurgence of the grand Renaissance tradition and a new classicism, shown in the works Maternity and Portrait of Jeanne (both 1916). In 1919, he signed a contract with the Parisian dealer, Léonce Rosemberge; guest-edited the second volume of the Mario Broglio’s magazine, ‘Valori Plastici’, dedicated entirely to the artistic climate in France; and he wrote a monograph on Manet for the same magazine’s column on modern art. In 1921, he painted the fresco for a room in the Montegufonidi castle, owned by the Osbert family and Sacheverell Sitwell, with figurative subjects taken from the Commedia dell’Arte. In the same year, Severini also published From cubism to classicism, in which he opposes the sense of disorder of contemporary painting, proposing instead a return to the classical methods of geometry and mathematics. In 1923, he met the philosopher Jacques Maritain in Paris, whilst alongside Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau and Maurice Denis he confronted the problem of pictorial mysticism in art. Between 1926 and 1930 he received a number of commissions to decorate and prepare frescos for several important locations. These include the Swedish churches of Semsales, La Roche and Tavennes, and also St Peter’s in Freiburg. In 1926, he participated at the first Mostra del Novecento in Milan and at the second Mostra the following year.
During the course of the 1930s he continued to work on decorative cycles of sacred themes, dedicating all of his activity to the scenery for the ‘Musical May of Florence’ and for ‘The Phoenix of Venice’, and for the illustration of texts written by literary friends like Paul Fort and Paul Valere. Moving in 1946 to Meudon, Severini returned to geometric abstraction, recuperating themes inspired by Cubism. Other than numerous texts written on contemporary art, he published the autobiographical volumes The life of a painter (1946), Time of modern effort. The life of a painter (post. 1968).
Severini died in Paris on 26 February 1966.