Leoncillo Leonardi (Spoleto, 1915 – Rome, 1968) is considered one of the greatest sculptors of the XXth Century, among the prominent representatives of Informal Art, European Expressionism. Leoncillo's work is characterized by a marked and brave Expressionism because relying on a colourful and fragile material: ceramic. Beyond the figurative level of the surface, this material frees the autonomous creativity of the matter, allowing it to deploy rhythms that are both organic and inorganic and that celebrate the prime theme of material vitalism, resulting rich and substantial.
After living at the margins of that Roman School – which influenced a lot of his first works dealing with mythological and dreamlike themes with a neo-baroque and expressionist style - Leoncillo moves soon to Umbertide (Umbria) where he improves his technical skills about ceramic materials. Here Leoncillo looks at the ancient technique of the enamelled and polychrome ceramic, making it a key element of his art based on the relationship between the material and the color.
In 1944 he takes part to a great exhibition at Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna in Rome. Little after the start of his career, Leoncillo exhibits at the VII Triennale in Milan where he is invited by Gio Ponti and where he will return again in 1947. The year before, he signs the manifesto of the Nuova Secessione Artistica Italiana (1946) with a group of ten artists – among them: Antonio Corpora, Renato Guttuso and Giulio Turcato – known as Fronte nuovo delle arti. In that period his production is characterized by a neo-cubistic style influenced by Picasso, made of strong contrasts and protruding surfaces. From 1948 Leoncillo is protagonist of six editions of the Venice Biennale (1948, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1960, 1968), where in 1954 a room is dedicated to his work together with Lucio Fontana. In these years many exhibitions has been organized as the one at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, or at the Italian House in New York, or at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. In 1949 took place his first solo show in Florence, curated by Roberto Longhi, where he shows about twenty works.
The 1950s are of paramount importance in Leoncillo's career. On the one hand because he takes part to a series of international exhibitions and events, like Italy at work, New York (1950); Italienische Kunst der Gegenwart, Munich (1950); Nutida italiensk Konst, Stockholm (1953); Arte italiana e contemporanea, Madrid (1954); Première Biennale Mediteranée, Alexandria, Egypt (1954) and the mentioned above Venice Biennale in 1954. On the other hand because Longhi himself, beside editing a Leoncillo's monograph published by De Luca (Rome), presented another solo show of the artist, with twenty-two sculptures and bas-reliefs in ceramic realized between 1939 and 1954, showing his new Informal style. In that year the Museum in San Paolo purchases one sculpture and in 1955 Leoncillo wins the contest for the Monument to the Fallen of All Wars in Albissola Marina, then realized in 1957 on a large bare base with bas- reliefs images creating a broken and fragmentary composition, definitely distancing themselves from the cubist-inspired geometries. In the same decades he realized the Monument to the Venetian Partisan for the Municipality of Venice in two copies. One sculpture will be placed inside the Napoleonic Gardens in the district "Sestiere di Castello" on a basement by Carlo Scarpa and it will be destroyed in 1961. The other one, after being presented in 1955 at the VII Quadriennale Nazionale d'Arte in Rome, will be purchased by the Municipality of Venice and today it is conserved at the modern museum - Ca' Pesaro. At the end of the 1950s and during the 1960s, Leoncillo devoted himself to experimentation and creates a series of “slashes” and “fractures”, vertical masses in grès or terracotta, which he cut. Like holes in the dirt, these reveal the hidden aspects of matter: cracks from firing, clots and layering, depositing. In 1967 he created, in collaboration with the architect Leonardo Ricci, a decorative panel for the Universal Exposition.
The following year, Leoncillo suddenly dies in Rome. Alberto Moravia writes about him: «Sculpture is the art par excellence of humankind; the sculptor, a man, creates another man whom you can go around, very similar to man. But Leoncillo has soon gone beyond his first naturalistic positions, a compulsory step for every serious artist, since the artist is, first of all, an imitator of nature. [...] But today Leoncillo, increasingly digging in the depths of his inspiration, seems to tend to a recollection and a simplification that he, in his talks about art, calls abstraction. These are his best things» (Alberto Moravia, preface in the catalogue of the First Exhibition of the Fronte Nuovo delle Arti, Milan 1947).
The reputation of Leoncillo still increases during the Nineties and his works have been exhibited in many exhibitions, among others: Qu'est-ce que c'est la sculpture moderne? at the Museum Centre Pompidou in Paris (1986) Memory of the future. Italian Art from early avant-garde to post-war al Museo Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (1990-91), organized in collaboration with Palazzo Grassi (Venice); and in 1994-1995 Leoncillo's sculptures has been exhibited at Italian Metamorphosis 1943-68 the exhibition curated by Germano Celant at the Solomon Guggenheim in New York.
His works are today in several important private collections and in the main Italian and International museums, such as the LACMA in Los Angeles, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (Macro), the Museum of Modern Art in Bologna (Mambo), the Galleria Internazionale di arte moderna e contemporeanea - Ca' Pesaro in Venice, the Museo Internazionale della Ceramica in Faenza (MIC), the Galleria civica d'arte moderna e contemporanea in Turin, the Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna e contemporanea in Rome (GNAM). In October 2018, an important auction record was set at Christie's in London: «Large Mutilation» was sold for 728.750 £ (826.826,26 €).
Galleria d'Arte Maggiore g.a.m. in Bologna works also as the Archive of Leoncillo's work and in 2002 it hosted and curated a retrospective “Leoncillo” (catalogue: Leoncillo, ed. La Grafica, 2002). In 2016 the Fondazione Carriero in Milan has organized an exhibition curated by Francesco Stocchi about the relationship between Leoncillo and Lucio Fontana, already celebrated by the mentioned above XXVII Venice Biennale in 1954. In that occasion Maggiore g.a.m. has loaned many artworks.
© Maggiore g.a.m.