The exhibition presents more than sixty works, combining oils, pastels and drawings from Ferrara's civic collections (about thirty-five) with a considerable series of works from public and private collections. The selection is completed by some important unpublished documents.
The exhibition aims at highlighting the constant tension in Previati's research towards overcoming the traditional boundaries of “easel” painting, understood as a means of expression, as a visual code or as a way of interacting with the public. Fascinated by the expression of feelings and his commitment to large formats for his late-Romantic education, the artist adopts an experimental approach to the subjects and mechanisms of vision that allows him to achieve unprecedented results. This is why his research plays a fundamental role in the renewal of Italian art at the turn of the century: Previati is considered an heir to the masters of the past, a leading figure of Italian Divisionism, but also an example for the young Futurists.
The exhibition opens with a sketch of the visionary painting "The hostages of Crema” (“Gli ostaggi di Crema”), 1879, which was Previati’s first masterpiece when he was not yet thirty. His interest in historical themes was soon accompanied by a fascination with Maudit subjects, as witnessed by “The Opium Smokers” (“Le fumatrici di oppio”) or “Cleopatra”.
The fundamental turning point coincides with the adherence to Divisionism: to mark this passage is the emblematic work “On the meadow” (“Nel prato”) in Palazzo Pitti, which is the “first attempt at the new broken colour technique, that gives the impression of a greater light intensity”, as the painter himself states. Large drawings, paintings and unpublished materials thus document the project to transfer the musical impressions about the story of Ugo and Parisina from Ferrara into a painting.
Another famous love story, that of Paolo and Francesca, repeatedly tickles Previati's imagination, culminating in the 1909 masterpiece, a true painting of “states of mind” that expand beyond the limits of the canvas: for this reason the painting is considered one of the matrices of Umberto Boccioni's famous triptych of “States of mind” (“Stati d’animo”).
The Ferrara artist also applies his innovative approach to traditional painting genres, as can be seen in the section on religious paintings. As for the landscape, Previati strips the scene of details to leave room for the joyful expressiveness of colour and light.
Making the most of the new possibilities offered by the publishing industry, with illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe's Tales and those for Manzoni's “The Betrothed”, the Previati experimented with a new code of illustration that staged the psychological atmospheres and moods of the literary text's protagonists.
The cycle of “Ways of commerce” (“Vie del commercio”) (1914-16) for the Milan Chamber of Commerce, is the final piece: the themes of modernity, focus of Marinetti and Boccioni's poetics, offered new possibilities for the decorative painting of the old master. One of the large panels of the cycle, “The Pacific Railroad” (“La ferrovia del Pacifico”, will be exceptionally displayed in the exhibition, accompanied by drawings.