Image: Medardo Rosso in the studio, Paris, early 1890s | Private Collection
Medardo Rosso (1858–1928) was born in Turin, the son of a railway station inspector. He began exhibiting sculpture in 1881 in Milan without having had any known artistic training. Rebellious by nature, he was expelled after only one year of enrolment at the Brera Art Academy in 1882. He exhibited his small works in Milan, Rome, and Venice, while his radical monument proposals were rejected by local authorities and his audacious funerary monuments were removed from the cemetery or criticized by the press. Early on, Rosso sent works to exhibitions in Paris, where the French press took note of him, as well as to London, where he was not noticed. Rosso’s modern subjects and style drew on Realism, but innovatively reconfigured through a new impressionistic modelling style that put sculpture in relationship to temporal and atmospheric effects, revealing a loss of detail in favour of sketchy modelling, flattened planes, and modulated surfaces.
Rosso married in 1885 and his only son, whom he christened Francesco. Evviva Ribelle (Francesco. Hurrah Rebel) was born late that year. Soon after, he separated from his wife and son. In 1889, he relocated to Paris, where he lived until after World War I and became a French citizen. Throughout his life, Rosso rejected any sense of national belonging and considered himself an internationalist. He met influential personalities such as Emile Zola (who allowed Rosso to list his name as the owner of a cast for publicity purposes), Edmond de Goncourt, and engineer and art patron Henri Rouart, whose portrait Rosso sculpted. In 1895, Rosso began casting works in unorthodox ways in his own foundry. He also experimented with photographing his works under different lighting conditions, manipulating the printing process and cropping, folding, scratching, or painting the photographic prints. He also experimented with drawing and with photographing his drawings. Rosso befriended Rodin but their relationship soured when Rosso felt that Rodin had failed to acknowledge his artistic debt to Rosso. After 1900, Rosso increased his international visibility, travelling throughout Europe and exhibiting in Vienna, Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Brussels, the Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and London. He made his final original work, Ecce puer (Behold the Child), in London in 1906. During Rosso’s last twenty years back in Italy he reunited with his son and continued to experiment by recasting earlier works in new ways. He died of complications from diabetes in Milan in 1928.
Despite Rosso’s self-professed internationalism, he was forgotten after his death. He was resuscitated in 1963 in a retrospective at MoMA. Recent exhibitions include: Medardo Rosso: Second Impressions (Harvard University Art Museums, 2003-04), Medardo Rosso (Centre for Italian Modern Art, 2015), and Medardo Rosso: Experiments in Light and Form (Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 2016-2017).