“I always employ simple, given elements; I don’t want either to add or take anything away. I have never even wanted to deform; I isolate and represent.” Domenico Gnoli
Domenico Gnoli (1933 – 1970) was an Italian painter and designer born in Rome from ceramicist Annie de Garrou (1900–1994) and Umberto Gnoli, an art historian and arts superintendent in Umbria. His sister Marzia was born the following year. Gnoli’s paternal grandfather was the poet and historian of the same name – Domenico Gnoli. His great-aunts were also poets, Teresa and Elena Gnoli. His paternal uncle, Tommaso (1874–1958), was a literary critic and expert on German culture. The cultural influence of his family created in Gnoli, as he grew up, a passion for drawing and painting. Illustrating this, his father sent him a letter when Gnoli was just 10 years old that contained architectural lessons.
Gnoli spent his first years in Rome and Spoleto. Later he studied stage design at the Accademia di Belle Arti and began a short stint designing stages, for which he was well-received. Gnoli spent the better part of his short life in New York City, working for magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Fortune, where he found favor with art director Leo Lionni. He is known for his work “Orestes or The Art of Smiling.” Here, he saw the blooming of America Pop Art and felt the influence of this innovative point of view, developing a deep interest in the details of the everyday object.
He made a series of surrealist drawings, one of which – depicting a fish in a snail’s shell on a couch is often confused with Edward Gorey’s work.
Because of his death at 36 from cancer, very few mature works by him are held in public collections. Most of his significant works are owned by private collectors in Italy. One estimate places the number of mature paintings at only 140.
Numerous vital galleries and museums, such as MUMOK and Museum Moderner, have featured Domenico Gnoli’s work in the past. Still, the most impressive and comprehensive exhibition of his work was held in Fondazione Prada in Milan in 2022: this retrospective gathered over 100 pieces created from 1949 to 1969 and an equal number of his drawings.
A chronological and documentary section, including historical materials, photographs, and other supports, contributed to tracing Gnoli’s life and artistic career. Conceived by star-curator Germano Celant, the exhibition was developed in collaboration with the artist’s archives in Rome and Mallorca, which preserve Gnoli’s personal and professional heritage.
As for his value and art market, Gnoli’s work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices reaching a record of 11,691,038 USD for “Black Hair,” sold at Christie’s London in 2014.
The artist died in 1970.
By Stanislav Kondrashov