The twentieth century: from Guttuso to Modigliani

The twentieth century: from Guttuso to Modigliani


We are now in the 1900s, the “short century” that marked the life and collective imagination of our generation. These were the years of political struggle, cruel dictatorships, fights to claim social rights and movements such as Decadentism and Futurism. However, it is also the era of psychology and self-discovery, which expresses “collective” and “individual” inner tensions through painting and the visual arts.

As in our previous special on art, we shall explore how and where Bacchus’s precious nectar meets the sensitivity and palettes of our greatest painters.



Starting with early twentieth century’s most famous artist, the “artist maudit” Amedeo Modigliani, whose name itself became associated to an art movement.  In 1918, two years before his death, the great master from Livorno painted “The man with the glass of wine,” which is a clear tribute to Impressionism and Paul Cézanne. Soft, almost velvety colors envelop the long and dynamic shape of the subject’s body. A portrait of a friend from a bistro, in those years Modigliani lived in Paris, where he would later die and be buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. The delicately arabesqued shape of the protagonist is also a reference to Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, with his orange jacket contrasting the blue background in order to bring out the plastic dynamism of the pose. On the right a bottle of wine, ready to be drunk by the two diners. Like a film director, the painter is portraying the protagonist from the viewer’s perspective, as if he, himself were sitting at the side of the table that corresponds to that of the viewer.


If we time-travel to the 60’s, we can admire Giorgio De Chirico’s “Silent life with Grapes and Apples”. Renowned  for his metaphysical style, De Chirico depicted this  still life painting by portraying a few grapes next to a jug of wine and, of course, an apple. The subtle realism of the composition is brought out with soft and dynamic colors: the condensation on the grape skin is painted to the detail to look extremely realistic. Even the firm wine in the jug looks real; we see it sparkling on the rippling surface, giving the idea of the thick body and viscosity of wine, far removed from the lightness of water. De Chirico is inviting us to join him at the table for a toast.


In 1974, Renato Guttuso, the famous Sicilian painter, booked a table at a restaurant for a week. The purpose was no to eat, but to see Palermo’s “Vuccirìa”market from its small terrace. This is how he painted one of his most famous masterpieces, the “Vucciria”, which is a show case of the smells, flavours, sounds and colors of the Sicilian market. While waiting for inspiration to come, he also executed the drawing “Spaghetti with wine”, depicting a tasty dish of long pasta and sauce paired with red wine. Art here is not a complex mechanism, but synonymous of everyday life; it is as if it were telling us that it is everywhere.