Sculptor Adolfo Wildt was famous in Italy during the inter-war period and captivated his contemporaries with his exceptional marble-working skills he acquired during the apprenticeship work he had done for other sculptors over several years. His originality stood on the fringes of tradition and avant-garde; however it always brought him mixed critical acclaim. His connections to Margherita Sarfatti, Benito Mussolini's mistress, and the official commissions and honours he received from the Fascist state undoubtedly played a key role in his falling into oblivion in the mid-20th century.
This is the first retrospective exhibition ever dedicated to Wildt in France and is organised in collaboration with the Cassa dei Risparmi di Forlì Foundation. It is an invitation to an unprecedented discovery of the Italian sculptor's fascinating and eccentric world. Only a few works have recently been unveiled to the public in Paris during the Italies exhibition in 2001 and Masks in 2008. Moreover, the public had to wait until 2013 for a French museum to acquire one of Wildt's works, the Vir temporis acti in bronze (1921), that is now part of the Musée d’Orsay collections.
The artist's atypical career unfolds in chronological order in the exhibition. As comprehensively as possible, it addresses the different facets of his art through 60 sculptures, sketches and medals, 34 drawings and graphic works, as well as old photographs of his works that have been lost or that cannot be put on display (sepulchral monuments in particular) and various documents. In conjunction with Wildt's work there are about 19 counterpoints on display throughout the course of the exhibition: mouldings of sculptures from Antiquity, Renaissance paintings (Cosmè Tura, Carlo Crivelli, etc.), as well as works by contemporary artists (Felice Casorati, Ivan Meštrović, Auguste Rodin, etc.) and by his students (Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti). The variety of sources and references as well as the contemporary artistic context are also addressed.
The large majority of the loans come from museums and private collections in Italy, where most of Wildt's works are still conserved. Two Italian institutions have generously loaned a significant part of their works by Wildt: the Musei civici museums in Forlì (6 sculptures) and in Venise (11 sculptures including several plasters from Wildt's studio).
The first room presents the artist's beginnings between Naturalism and Classicism. In 1894, Wildt entered into contract with the rich Prussian Franz Rose, represented in a bust, in which he agrees to provide Rose with the first copy of each of his sculptures in exchange for an annual pension: thus he was provided with the freedom to create and a certain material comfort until Rose's death in 1912.
The second room is dedicated to the period following the deep depression Wildt went through between 1906 and 1909. During this period he questioned the meaning of his art and the form he had to adopt: at the time he aimed to maintain a connection with early art and to "rebel completely against the art of today", all while being in harmony with modern thought. His extraordinary Self portrait entitled Masque de douleur [Mask of Sorrow] marks a return to creation. The work fits into an Expressionist approach Wildt explored around 1910, a period when he also questioned the partial figure (Vir temporis acti) and introduced refined, golden decorative elements into his works that connected him to Germanic splinter groups.
With pure, refined works like Un Rosaire [A Rosary] or L’Âme et son habit [The Soul and its Habit], the third room emphasises a now ubiquitous element of Wildt's art, a sense of spirituality stemming from a very personal sense of devotion that was an illustration of his maxim: "A work of art is not made for the eyes, it is made for the soul." Centred around the Mère adoptive [Adoptive Mother], the fourth circular room accentuates the iconography of the family as reinvented by Wildt.
Wildt gained artistic recognition right after the First World War, and the fifth room showcases the variety of his artistic creation: of course his monumental portraits, but also his tributes to fallen heroes, his portraits of children, the series of drawings of the Grands jours de Dieu et l’Humanité [Grand Days of God and Humanity], and lastly his final masterpiece, the Parsifal. The works in this room, adapted in a very personal way, highlight Wildt's connections with the classical demands of the "Novecento", the "Return to Order" movement launched by Margherita Sarfatti.
Tortured and eccentric, with extreme sensitivity, one cannot help but be moved before Wildt's work: Ugo Ojetti describes him as the ideal interpreter of his "tired, nervous, credulous and curious era".