Osvaldo Licini: Rebellious Angel | Estorick Collection

This retrospective show provides a great example of an artist finding their groove on the home stretch of their career. Osvaldo Licini was a working artist from the 1920s to his death in 1958, living through many of the 20th century’s most influential artistic movements, which in turn made their mark on his work - until they didn’t.

Across the two exhibition galleries of the Estorick Collection, we move from some ho-hum Cézanne-tribute portraits, to a couple of mock-Modiglianis, to some abstract works from the 1930s which owe a clear debt to de Stijl, though they also tend to suggest the mountainous landscape of le Marche, Licini’s home region in Italy.

Osvaldo Licini, ‘Rebellious Angel with Red Heart’ (1954)

Licini, an anti-Fascist, sat the Second World War out, and then came back, unexpectedly, into something genuinely original. The second gallery of the show is dedicated to the artist’s final decade, when he suddenly started populating his abstract landscapes with mythical figures: including a woman he called ‘Amalassunta’ and brawny male angels with big shoulders and flowy hair. Rebellious Angel with Red Heart, from 1953 and pictured above, is a standout example of the latter group.

All of a sudden, Licini’s work sheds its burden of debt to his artistic peers. His line becomes free, playful. His touch is light. The paintings seem to vibrate with the obvious enjoyment their creator took in making them.

Licini therefore enjoyed a brief moment in the sun: he won the grand prize for painting at the Venice Biennale in the year of his death. And, I suppose, he gets a small bit of afterglow by being reintroduced to audiences in London, here, 65 years later.

Osvaldo Licini: Rebellious Angel is at the Estorick Collection (London). 14 June - 10 September 2023