Camillo Innocenti was born in Rome in 1871, the son of Augusto Innocenti, a successful and wealthy Roman architect. Despite showing an aptitude for art from an early age his father insisted that the young Innocenti should concentrate on his academic studies and he was only allowed to paint during the school holidays. He left school at the age of 1to devote his life to art.
Innocenti studied at the Istituto di Belle Arti (School of Fine Arts) in Rome where he was influenced by the work of Domenico Morelli (Italian, 1826-1901) and Francesco Paolo Michetti (Italian, 1851-1929) and later by the ideals of the Verismo (Realism) movement (a literary movement largely inspired by French Naturalism which flourished in Italy from the late 19thC) and by the work of the Italian Impressionist painter Antonio Mancini (1852-1930) - the man whom John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) had famously proclaimed to be 'the greatest living artist' when they were both working in Paris in the 1870s – and with whom Innocenti had been friends since 1888.
Innocenti became friends with Morelli as well as Antonio Mancini and Domenico and Ettore Tito (Italian, 1849-1941) who became known as the Macchiaioli artists, a significant group of Tuscan painters who, breaking with the antiquated conventions taught by the Italian academies of art, painted outdoors in order to capture natural light, shade, and colour. They were the forerunners of the Impressionists who, beginning in the 1860s, would pursue similar aims in France.
He exhibited his first painting, inspired by an Old Master, in Rome in 1893. This was followed a year later by Christ in the Wilderness which clearly shows the influence of Domenico Morelli, who was later attracted to Innocenti's work and encouraged his protégé to paint three views of the River Tiber for use as biblical illustrations. Morelli's patronage and recognition of Innocenti's talent proved important to the development of his career and may have been influential in helping him win the Grand State Prize in 1896, and a four year grant.
Innocenti used the award to travel to Spain where he was greatly influenced by the work of its greatest painter, Velásquez (Diego Velázquez or Velásquez, Spanish, 1599-1660) and the portraiture of Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Spanish, 1746-1828). It was during this period that Innocenti also developed his watercolour technique and he sold landscapes and pictures of local people in national costume to fund his stay in Andalucia. From Spain he travelled and studied in Germany, France, Holland and England before returning to Italy in 1903.
He exhibited at the First Exhibition of Italian Art in St Petersburg in 1897. In this earlier part of his career Innocenti had focused on history painting and academic subjects, such as Holy Family (1898) and Caesar and Cleopatra (1901). However he later described this period as 'a time of slavery' and he took every opportunity to study the work of the Impressionists and other developments in modern painting whilst his own style moved increasingly towards Pointillism.
His Pointillist work gained him international success. His work was included in the 53rd Exhibition of Friendship and Culture in Rome in 190and his painting, Small Girl Listening to a Fairy Tale, won him the Silver Medal at the Sinigagli Exhibition in 1904. In the same year, his Ciociaren Song won him the Gold Medal at the Louisiana World Fair (this vast event was held in St. Louis, Missouri, to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase with exhibitions from 6foreign nations, the US government and 4of the then 4US states).
190Louisiana World Fair190Louisiana World Fair
He exhibited at the 190Venice Biennale, in 190at the Rome Biennale, held his first one-man show in Rome in the same year and also exhibited in London for the first time, at the Fine Art Society's Exhibition of Pictures by a Quartette of Roman Painters: E Coleman, U Coromaldi, V Grassi, C Innocenti.
Innocenti won further awards, including a Bronze Medal at the Brussels Universal and International Exposition in 1910; a Bronze Medal awarded by the Accademia di San Luca in 191(Academy of Saint Luke, the prestigious association of artists in Rome founded in 159with the purpose of elevating the work of artists above that of craftsman); and a Bronze Medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 191(a World's Fair held in San Francisco, California, whose ostensible purpose was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, but was widely seen in the city as an opportunity to showcase its recovery from the 190earthquake).
It was at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition that one commentator noted, 'Italy's notable contribution to the art of the Exposition is placed in Rooms…. Room No. 2contains the work of the three principal prize winners. Ettore Tito was awarded the Grand Prize. Medals of Honor were granted to Onorato Carlandi and Camillo Innocenti. These three men, together with Antonio Mancini, whose group hangs in Room 22, stand among the very foremost of contemporary Italian artists…'.
Another commentator said of Innocenti, '…The prismatic palette of Camillo Innocenti, which has acquired a certain Gallic grace, was seen to advantage in a quartette of canvases, the best of which was The Green Shawl …'.
At the same time as developing his reputation as a Pointillist painter, Innocenti developed his love of painting young women, which was to remain a recurring subject throughout his career. At this time his compositions also began to reflect greater simplicity, executed in richer and finer colours.
During the First World War Innocenti served in the military and, in the immediate post-war years (1919-22), he spent much of his time working in Rome's early film industry, designing sets and costumes for many films, including Cyrano and Ben Hur.
Innocenti won an international competition to become the Founding Director of the School of Fine Art in Cairo, Egypt, a post he was to hold until 1938. This appointment marked a hugely important stage in Innocenti's life and career and Egypt and its people were to have a profound effect on the artist and become a major theme of his work throughout the rest of his career.
It was in Egypt that Innocenti produced many important pictures including, at the direct request of King Fuad, a series of paintings of stallions from the Royal Egyptian Stables (Fuad I, 1868-1936, Sultan of Egypt, 1917, and later the first King of modern Egypt and Sudan and Sovereign of Nubia, Kordofan and Darfur, 1922).
Forced by his wife's ill heath to return to Rome in 1938, he requested the help of Anna Piazzani, with whom he had been friends during his years in Cairo, to help sort out his affairs. Anna moved in as his housekeeper, together with her daughter, Luisa. Innocenti and Anna Piazzani formed a close relationship that was to continue for the rest of their lives.
Luisa Piazzani, c.1944Luisa Piazzani, c.1944, by Camillo Innocenti
© Private Collection
After such a long absence from the artistic life of Europe, Innocenti had returned to Italy to find that he had been largely forgotten by both the public and the art establishment. Following his wife's death, he, Anna and Luisa moved to Mestre, north of Venice, then to Riccione, on the Adriatic coast, and finally to Rome.
Although faced with constant financial difficulties, Innocenti remained artistically active throughout these years, including exhibiting at the 195Rome Quadriennale, and he never severed his links with Egypt, the exiled King Fuad being a regular visitor to his apartment in Via Delle Cave. He died in Rome in 1961.
His work is to be seen in many public collections in Italy, including the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna (National Gallery of Modern Art), Rome; the Galleria dell'Accademia Nazionale di San Luca (Gallery of the National Academy of St Luca), Rome; the Galleria Comunale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (the Gallery of Modern & Contemporary Art), Rome; the Prefettura (Prefecture) in Pescara, the Pinacoteca Civica (Civic Gallery) in Ascoli Piceno, and the Galleries of Modern Art in Udine, Piacenza and Palermo, Sicily.
Since Innocenti's death, an exhibition has been devoted to his work at the Galleria Campo dei Fiori in Rome in 199and he has been represented in exhibitions at the Società degli Amatori e Cultori di Belle Arti di Rome (Society of Friendship and Culture of Fine Arts of Rome) at the Campo dei Fiori Gallery in Rome in 1998; the 200Fondazione Adriano Olivetti exhibition Luce e Pittura in Italia 1850-191in Rome (transferred to Brussels, Belgium, 200and Livorno, Italy, 2003); the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca's exhibition La Campagna Romana de 'I XXV', in Rome in 2005; and at the Palazzo Roverella 200exhibition, La Belle Epoque, Arte in Italia 1880 – 1915, in Rovigo.