ROMANO DAZZI: STORY OF AN ENFANT PRODIGE

A corpus of his drawings from the Ugo Ojetti Collection in the 88th Modern and Contemporary Art auction scheduled for Friday, February 26th

of Scarlett Matassi

In the catalogue of the modern and contemporary art auction that Bertolami Fine Art on the calendar on Friday 26 February, a small section is dedicated to a corpus of drawings mostly from the Ugo Ojetti Collection. The works, executed between 1918 and the first half of the 1920s, bear the signature of the young Romano Dazzi (1905-1976), a remarkable draughtsman and one of the most striking figures on the Italian artistic scene between the two wars. His singular story deserves a brief account.

The boys of Via Paisiello between Balla, boxing and Beethoven

In his adolescent years, Romano, the son of a Arturo Dazzi, son of a successful sculptor, is an acclaimed enfant prodige. He is also a beautiful young man, with a passionate temperament, all impetuosity, sense of adventure, enthusiasm for life. The friends, almost uncles for him, who assiduously visit his parents' living room are called Giacomo Puccini, Grazia Deledda, Ugo Ojetti, Anton Giulio Bragaglia, Ettore Tito, Mario Broglio, Roberto Melli e Armando Spadini. peers Giorgio Amendola e Giuseppe Antonio Borgese are instead the companions of the heart. The three boys live in Rome, at 15 Via Paisiello, the street where Giacomo Balla has set up his studio. Together they spend a fantastic adolescence: on the one hand, the early intellectual experiences of the afternoons spent at the Caffè Aragno, at Balla's house, or at Futurist events., on the one hand, the early intellectual experiences of the afternoons spent at Caffè Aragno, at Balla's house or at Futurist events, and on the other, the stone-throwing between rival gangs, the frenzied boxing practice and the passion for Beethoven.

Passion for sport

ROMAN DAZZI
Athletes
Pencils on paper
PROVENANCE: Ugo Ojetti Collection
Lot 216 of Auction 88 Bertolami Fine Art - Rome, 26 February 2021

Acclaimed enfant prodige

In 1919, the Bragaglia Art Gallery, one of the liveliest in the capital, presented an exhibition of one hundred and forty-eight drawings by Romano, then just fourteen years old. There is also a small catalogue edited by Valori plastici, an important art magazine, and presented by Ugo Ojetti. The success was surprising: the most authoritative critics were mobilized for the artist-boy, who saw in him the emblem of a new generation that had matured before the war.

Fight scenes are on the other hand the favourite subjects of the young Dazzi together with some extraordinary portraits of animals. The aggressive style, the very fast mark, the interest for the representation of the movement create an almost cinematographic effect. The war imagined in those drawn films is not, however, the shocking existential story illustrated by artists who have really been at the front, but a pretext to tell another story: that of the secret of life revealed in bodies in movement. It is an idea that belongs profoundly to the artist's bursting personality, but also to the cultural debate and experimentation of those years, which he showed he knew very well.

The dreamed war

ROMAN DAZZI
Body to Body, 1919
Pencil and charcoal on paper
PROVENANCE: Ugo Ojetti Collection
Lot 219 of Auction 88 Bertolami Fine Art - Rome, 26 February 2021

Ugo Ojetti and Romano Dazzi: the story of a strict master and a fleeing disciple

Around the boy's prodigious talent, Ojetti he devised a project: to apply his theories on him to make him the perfect artist. That is to say a man of order, whose main talent is the ability to communicate a content with clarity, learning to govern the exuberance of his own creativity with the ordering force of style. The strict, daily control exercised by the critic seems at first to have the better of the impetuosity of his creature. The forms became more ample and harmonious and the objective pursued was clearly that of creating perfectly finished drawings, overcoming the instinctive predilection of the immature artist for the unfinished and the fresh immediacy of the sketch. Romano is committed, he seeks a docility that he does not possess, but the force of his dreams is destined to overwhelm the meditated pedagogical utopia of the master.

Animals

ROMAN DAZZI
Study of an orangutan, 1919-20
Charcoal on paper
ORIGIN: Ugo Ojetti Collection
Lot 236 of Auction 88 Bertolami Fine Art - Rome, 26 February 2021

1923: the expedition to Libya

The pretext to free himself from that heavy tutelage was offered to him in 1923 by the invitation of the Government to document with a campaign of drawings the military expedition to Libya of Marshal Graziani. The months spent in the desert left an indelible mark on his soul. In the presence of a wild nature, free from the artificial superstructures of civilization, life finally acquires meaning. In the self-portraits made in that period Dazzi reveals what he wants to be: not the artist all rigour and discipline that Ojetti wants to make of him, but a leader like Lawrence of Arabia who, in Arabian costume and on the back of a camel, crosses the desert alone. This heroic image is also confirmed by certain splendid contemporary photographic self-portraits that show him handsome, bare-chested and wearing boxing gloves, or with his hat pulled sideways over his gloomy face and the eternal cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Iconographic choices that anticipate the inevitable epilogue of his relationship with Ugo Ojetti: a bitter break, experienced by the critic with resentment.

In Libya in the retinue of Marshal Graziani

ROMAN DAZZI
Dancing Ascarian, 1923
Charcoal on paper
ORIGIN: Ugo Ojetti Collection
Lot 254 of Auction 88 Bertolami Fine Art - Rome, 26 February 2021

An artist against the tide

Later the artist returned to the peculiar motives of his inspiration: the passion, almost an obsession, for the rendering of movement together with the predisposition for the unfinished and for the idealization of forms. A line destined to suffer a heavy defeat in Italy. Triumphs instead the direction theorized by his Pygmalion of the past and put into practice, in sculpture, by Arturo, the father-Saturn that the gossip of collectors wants so jealous of the talent of his son to hinder his career. To Romano, increasingly isolated, there remains the consolation of the enthusiasm that American circles in Italy reserve for the vitalism (so "American", in fact) of his work.

From that world the last slap for Ojetti: "Self Development in Drawing as Interpreted by the Genius of Romano Dazzi and Other Children"., a book by Walter Beck in which, starting from the example of the self-taught Romano Dazzi, a method of teaching drawing based on the abolition of all forms of coercive teaching is theorized.

ROMAN DAZZI
Tiger Study, 1925
Charcoal on paper
ORIGIN: Ugo Ojetti Collection
Lot 238 of Auction 88 Bertolami Fine Art - Rome, 26 February 2021

Credits:

Article published by kind permission of ArtsLife magazine

The images are taken from the catalogue of Bertolami Fine Art auction 88 of Modern and Contemporary Art
"FROM THE XIX TO THE XXI CENTURY: PAINTINGS, DRAWINGS AND SCULPTURES
With a section dedicated to art in Rome between the two wars".

February 26, 2021 - Rome, Caetani Lovatelli Palace