Still life was one of Renato Guttuso’s favourite themes and he returned to it throughout his career. Like many of his still lifes, this ink drawing explores the subject of the still life in the artist’s studio. Still Life in a Studio is uncharacteristically muted in colour, although this is partly due to the light-sensitive nature of some of the coloured inks used, especially the blue, purple, green and yellow. The inks were applied with a pen and brush on a sheet of heavyweight white wove paper. Vigorous pen marks in black Indian ink contrast areas of delicate ink washes. The space is brimming with the everyday objects to be found in an artist’s studio, including bottles, paintbrushes, cans, books, chairs, pliers, crumpled paper and cups. The multiple viewpoints and tilted planes show how Guttuso had assimilated the innovations of Cézanne and cubism and reworked them into his own brand of realism.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, during the last years of fascist rule in Italy, Guttuso had focused on violent still lifes that functioned as covert symbols of his political dissent. Painted in bright, expressionistic colours, these still lifes featured objects such as nails, birdcages, knives and flag-like red cloths. They often contained citations of the work of other artists, such as animal skulls, a homage to Picasso who, since painting Guernica (1937, Museo del Prado, Madrid), had become a symbol of antifascism for many dissenting artists in Italy. This ink drawing, however, does not have the same ideological import and is more in tune with Guttuso’s post-war ‘existential realism’. Art historian Enrico Crispolti has written that at this time Guttuso was chiefly concerned with ‘the individual and collective existential condition in a society of mass consumerism.’ (Crispolti 1983, p.10.)
In 1962 the artist gave this work as a present to the British-based collectors Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler with whom he had become friendly after the Second World War. He inscribed it, ‘To Ely and Gustav with Guttuso’s affection, Velate 62’. Velate is a small town in the countryside near Lake Maggiore where, from 1953, Guttuso spent long periods of time in the summer in a villa inherited by his wife Mimise where he kept a studio and entertained friends, artists and intellectuals.
Enrico Crispolti, Guttuso nel disegno: Anni Venti/Ottanta, Rome 1983
Fabio Carapezza Guttuso, ‘Renato Guttuso: Ragione poetica e civile’, Fabio Carapezza Guttuso et al, Guttuso, Milan 1999
Giorgia Bottinelli, ‘Renato Guttuso’, in Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Cubism and its Legacy: The Gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, pp.45-8, reproduced p.49 in colour