“I now know how to be great as no one has ever known. I stretch, with an intensity of agony, my will.”
TRQ: Filippo De Pisis, Born May 11, 1896
Avant-garde painter and poet, Filippo De Pisis was born in Ferrara, Italy. De Pisis is known for his paintings of cityscapes, still lifes and male nudes.
De Pisis began drawing at as a young child, but when he enrolled at the University of Bologna at the age of 18, he studied literature and philosophy. He continued painting on the side, and he became met several key figures in the French avant-garde movements in literature and art. His social circle grew to include poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Tristan Tzara, and the brothers Giorgio De Chirico and Albert Savinio.
After graduation, De Pisis taught high school in Rome, while developing a painting style that combined objects and landscapes in unexpected ways. Galleria Bragaglia exhibited his works in 1920. During these years he became aware of his own homosexuality and began painting androgynous human figures, having written that “L’elemento maschile e femminile è fuso strettamente in ogni individuo” (“The masculine and feminine element is tightly fused in every person.”).
His work has been described by scholars and critics as palpably sensual, delicate in his use of light and color. Loredana Parmesani says that for De Pisi, “everyday simplicity oozes with lust, eroticism [and] voluptuousness.” At the Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea Filippo de Pisis, his paintings are described as still-lifes, cityscapes and voluttosi nudi maschili (“voluptuous male nudes”).
In his diaries he delved into descriptions of his sexual fantasies, and a love affair with a man named Berto. De Pisis wrote that Berto’s body caused “delirium and pangs of the soul.” Also in his diaries, he would write of his male students, and sketch their torsos, purely from his imagination.
In 1925 he moved to Paris to study the work of French artists like Eugène Delacroix and Édouard Manet. He met Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce. This caused political uproar in Italian newspapers, as Italy at the time was becoming increasingly Fascist. Italo Balbo, a one time school mate, intervened on De Pisis’s behalf.
Within five years, he had produced a series watercolours paintings of Parisian city scenes for the book Questo è Parighi (This Is Paris), written by Giovanni Comisso. He also began recruiting male models off the streets to paint, and often, to have sex.
Through the 1930’s, he traveled often to England, where he worked with Bloomsbury Group artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. He would go on to exhibit his London paintings.
De Pisis moved back to Italy when World War II broke out, first to Milan and then to Venice, where he owned a large house, a gondola and appeared in public as an eccentric dandy with a parrot on his shoulder. He continued his diaries, where he wrote of his “delizioso” models. One model in particular, Bruno Scarpa, served as his gondolier and served afternoon tea to his guests.
At the end of the war, De Pisis threw a party where boys danced nude but for strings of shells around their waists. The party was raided by the police, and De Pisis and another eighteen guests were arrested and spent the night in jail.
De Pisis professional success continued, and he exhibited thirty of his works at the 1948 Venice Bienniale. In 1953 he won the Premio Fiorino. In 1954, he won the Mazotta Prize.
De Pisis died on April 1, 1956, of an undetermined illness that may have been related to an ongoing neurological disorder.