He was born in Toceno, in Val Vigezzo, in 1870. His wealthy family of small landowners did not boast artistic precedents. Nonetheless, at just eleven, he was initiated into painting. A pupil of Enrico Cavalli at Rossetti Valentini from 1882-83 to 1887-88, he left the Valley in 1889 to enroll in the Free School of Nude in Venice. Upon returning, he married Giuseppina Bona at the age of twenty and had five children, two of whom died prematurely, Anna (1896-1912) and Francesco (1897-1917), killed in the war. The family was a central point of reference for him and conditioned his events, even to the detriment of his career. He spent the months from January to September 1896 in Lyon, together with Carlo Fornara, living on portraits and deepening live the lesson of realist, Lyon and French painting, already learned in Santa Maria from the common master Cavalli. The intense period is documented by a diary which, transcribed by his son Paolo with the collaboration of Gianni Pizzigoni, is published in the catalog of the 1986 exhibition in Verbania-Pallanza, curated by Aurora Scotti. Ciolina will continue to devote himself to the intimate portrait, together with still life, the two genres typically linked to the Vigezzo tradition, which, after 1940, will be central to his work. In the meantime, the sending of the debut at the First Triennale di Brera in 1891 was refused, and had to wait until 1897, the Third Triennale, for the success of Il filo spezzato, a demanding test of implicit symbolist intent and almost divisionist technique: a sui generis divisionism that he will abandon shortly thereafter, preferring instead a more loose-knit manner, anchored to Cavalli's precepts. Unlike Fonara, Ciolina did not associate with the Alberto Grubicy Gallery. This, if on the one hand allowed him greater freedom, on the other hand ended up limiting his career to the Lombard-Piedmontese area. And although, an affirmed worldly portraitist, he held a studio in Milan, from 1898 to 1914, he remained extraneous to the debate of the cenacles in vogue, neither a member of the Artistic Family nor of the Permanente, although present, in the latter's rooms, at two annual exhibitions, in 1909 and 1911. Milan or not, his place and primary source of inspiration remained the Vigezzo Valley. His iconography is rooted in the life of the villagers: an existential choice close to that of Pellizza da Volpedo. Of very similar social origins, they both looked to the French Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), who had struck Pellizza in October 1889, at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, and whom Ciolina knew above all from reproductions. The common intent was to translate the faces and the daily reality of their people into a sort of epic of native rural life, joining, albeit belatedly, in the long realist tradition of peasant painting. Pellizza had to go through with the stylistic and aesthetic implications of Divisionism; Ciolina would soon develop a colorist style, with brushstrokes that dissolve into the pictorial fabric in the service of compositions based on a solid drawing, in which, at least for large canvases, he also availed himself of the help of photography. He did not exhibit much, but always in important contexts: two Triennali di Brera, 1897 and 1900; Turin National Exhibition of 1898; International Fine Arts Exhibition for the inauguration of the Simplon Pass, 1906; VII Venice Biennale, 1907; Universal Exhibition in Brussels, 1910. Being able to count on agricultural profits, on the commissions of portraits and, later, on the support of patrons, Ciolina conquered, albeit painful, an economic autonomy that allowed him absolute artistic independence. He was adviser to Alfredo Giannoni, so that we owe him many pieces of the collection that today constitutes the central nucleus of the Broletto Museum in Novara. For the villa in Vizzola Ticino, engineer Gianni Caproni commissioned him the famous Return from the Alps, 1920. Enrico Cavalli's school in Santa Maria Maggiore was very young. At the Venice Biennale in 1907 he exhibited Preludio di Primavera, which is now in the Gallery of Modern Art "Paolo and Adele Giannoni", in Novara, with Tramonto, Tempo autumnale and two etching landscapes. He mainly painted landscapes, on commission from private individuals. He died in Toceno in 1955.


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