Giuseppe Cavalli

The Padlock - Forbidden Entry


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Giuseppe Cavalli 1904–1961
Original title
Il Lucchetto - Vietato l'Ingresso
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Unconfirmed: 280 × 363 mm
image: 270 × 355 mm
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015


This is one of a group of six small black and white photographs in Tate’s collection taken by the Italian photographer Giuseppe Cavalli between 1946 and 1955 (Tate P13665P13670). Though the subject matter of these photographs is varied, including close-ups, still-lifes and landscapes, they collectively represent his distinctive style. This was characterised by the use of what he described as ‘high tunes’ (extremely low contrast), achieved by shooting in the midday Mediterranean sun, without shadow, to achieve a luminous, almost surreal look. He also paid careful attention to composition, exploiting simple subject matter to focus on lines and structure within his chosen image. In particular, the use of the diagonal – as seen in Cabins 1955 (Tate P13666), Desire for Immensity 1954 (Tate P13667) and Winter 1946 (Tate P13669) – and the way in which objects are cropped by the picture frame – as in Carnival in Fano 1950 (Tate P13670) and The Hand and the Mirror 1951 (Tate P13665) – are common features in his work. After 1953 Cavalli began experimenting with greater contrast, and this can be seen in The Padlock – Entry Forbidden 1954 (Tate P13668), where the shadow of the padlock and dark lines of the composition contrast strongly with the lighter background.

Cavalli was central to the development of photography in Italy in the inter-war period and immediately following the Second World War. Like many prominent photographers during this period, he did not study fine art or photography. Trained as a lawyer, he took up photography as an amateur in 1932 before deciding to dedicate himself to the subject in 1936, going on to become one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century Italian photography. While many of his peers adopted the documentary approach popularised elsewhere in Europe and in the United States, Cavalli was vociferous in his belief that photographers in Italy needed to focus on formal concerns above a traditional, documentary-style approach, to emphasise the medium as an autonomous art form and create a distance between the pictorial, nationalistic imagery that had been dominant under the Fascist regime. He was an indefatigable promoter of photography exhibitions, salons and prizes; regularly published photography criticism and wrote for specialist photography magazines; and was co-founder of two important photography groups: the formalist avant-garde group La Bussola (in 1947) and the more moderate La Misa (in 1953), in the latter of which he tutored the photographers Piergiorgio Branzi ((born 1928) and Mario Giacomelli (1925–2000).

The photographs in Tate’s collection were purchased directly from the artist’s estate by Massimo Prelz Oltramonti, one of the foremost collectors of twentieth and twenty-first century Italian photography, from whose collection they have been gifted to Tate.

Further reading
Germano Celant (ed.), The Italian Metamorphosis 1943–1968, exhibition catalogue, Guggenheim Museum, New York 1994.
Viewpoints: Italy in Black and White, exhibition catalogue, The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London 2005.
Italian Photography 1930–1970s, exhibition catalogue, Manezh Central Exhibition Centre, Moscow 2007.
Angela Madesani (ed.), Giuseppe Cavalli: Nature Morte, Milan 2009.

Emma Lewis
November 2014

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