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Pisis, Filippo Tibertelli De (1896-1956)  
 
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With a style that combined elements of metaphysical and impressionist painting, avant-garde Italian artist Filippo De Pisis did not belong to any one particular artistic movement. His individualism may have contributed to a certain marginalization of his art, yet he gained acclaim for his cityscapes, still lifes, and voluptuous male nudes. His work is distinguished by a palpable sensuality.

As a young man De Pisis earned a university degree in literature, with an eye to a possible career as a writer. Although painting became his principal means of artistic expression, he continued to write poetry and other works throughout his life.

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De Pisis came from the Tibertelli family, established in Ferrara since the fourteenth century. The founder of the family, Filippo Tibertelli da Pisa, was a condottiere, or commander of a troop of mercenaries, from Pisa whose reputation rose to near-mythic proportions over the years. De Pisis changed his name from Luigi Filippo Tibertelli in recognition of his ancestor's place of origin.

Ferrara was dominated by Socialists and anti-clericals at the time of De Pisis's birth on May 11, 1896, and so the staunchly Catholic Tibertelli family found itself somewhat isolated from the social life of the city. De Pisis's parents chose to have their seven children educated at home by priests and later at a private high school.

De Pisis began to study drawing at the age of six, but it was not his sole interest. He was also fascinated by antique objects and developed a love of nature, especially butterflies, of which he had a large collection.

At eighteen De Pisis entered the University of Bologna, where he studied literature and philosophy. He also continued to paint. During his college years he met the brothers Giorgio De Chirico and Albert Savinio. Through them and their circle, he became exposed to the French avant-garde in literature and art, and he entered into correspondence with poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Tristan Tzara.

After graduating from the university, De Pisis went to Rome, where he worked for four years as a high school teacher. He began dedicating himself seriously to painting, producing still-lifes that featured unexpected juxtapositions of objects and also some landscapes. An exhibition of his works was presented at Rome's Galleria Bragaglia in 1920.

In artwork not intended for public display De Pisis sought to create an ideal human figure. He wrote "L'elemento maschile e femminile è fuso strettamente in ogni individuo" ("The masculine and feminine element is tightly fused in every person.") In his celebration of androgyny De Pisis rejected traditional heterosexual sex roles.

In the early 1920s, De Pisis also became aware of his homosexuality. He wrote of sexual fantasies in his diary, and he eventually fell in love with a young man named Berto. De Pisis wrote of enjoying his lover's body, which he said caused him "delirium and pangs of the soul."

De Pisis moved to Paris in 1925 to study the work of French artists, especially Eugène Delacroix and Édouard Manet, whom he particularly admired. The political situation in Italy may have contributed to his decision to leave Italy since the country was then in Fascist control.

Although De Pisis described himself as neutral--neither for nor against the Fascists--he was attacked in Italian newspapers as disloyal for abandoning his country and might have been declared a traitor had not Fascist minister Italo Balbo, an old schoolmate, intervened on his behalf.

In Paris De Pisis moved in circles of artists and writers, meeting Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and James Joyce, among others. Giorgio De Chirico was also among his associates there.

De Pisis continued painting still-lifes and also produced city scenes of Paris, including a series of water colors for a book, Questo è Parighi (This Is Paris, 1931), written by his friend Giovanni Comisso.

In addition, he created paintings of the male figure, such as Nudino sulla pelle di tigre (Nude man on a tiger skin, 1931). He generally recruited his models from young working-class men whom he encountered on the street. In his diaries he recorded appreciative comments about the bodies of his subjects.

In the late 1930s De Pisis made several trips to England, where he worked with artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant of the Bloomsbury Group. He subsequently held successful exhibitions of his paintings of London.

When World War II broke out, De Pisis moved back to Italy, settling first in Milan. The Fascists were still suspicious of him, and once threatened to arrest him as a "perturber of morals."

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