Giovan Battista Lelli (Milan, 21 June 1827 - Milan, 13 April 1887) was an Italian painter. He was born in Milan on 21 June 1827 to Antonio and Carolina Bianchi, in a wealthy family, residing in via Rastrelli. In March 1848 he enthusiastically participated in the anti-Austrian uprisings, leaving a brief memory of them. His patriotic commitment to him continued in the following years, at least until 1859, when he fought in the Garibaldian ranks. The question of his artistic training remains open. The news reported by Ortolani according to which his teacher would have been the elderly M. Gozzi, who died in 1839, when Lelli was just twelve years old, is probably to be denied. The first known paintings of him, presented at the annual exhibitions of the Brera Academy starting from 1855, are inspired by his frequentation and study of the lakes region, the Pre-Alps and the Lombard Alps. The View of Lake Lecco near Varenna and the View of the village of Omegna, Lake Orta (Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera, in storage at the Gallery of Modern Art), exhibited respectively in 1862 and 1863, document the his balanced poetics, respectful of the precepts of the Lombard landscape tradition of the beginning of the century (own, for example, by L. Bisi, G. Canella, A. Inganni) and moderately open to the new demands of realism. In the mid-1960s he began teaching drawing lessons at the royal girls' college. The successful manual, entitled Progressive course of landscapes, was addressed to the public of aristocratic "amateurs". Studies from life, which he wrote for the Vallardi publisher around 1867. In that year he presented in Brera, where it is still preserved, the painting Nella pianura (The river Po near Vaccarizza), in which adherence to "modernity", in its most prosaic aspects, it reveals itself in the insertion of the motive of diligence in the foreground. At the same time he participated in the Universal Exposition in Paris with a View of the town of Omegna, Lake Orta (location unknown), a probable variant of the one painted in 1863. Over the next ten years the painter, stimulated to renew his practice of atelier from the contact with G. Fasanotti and L. Riccardi, he earned the esteem of the most advanced circles of the city's artistic culture, as well as a large group of followers (among others, A. Besozzi, T. Dell'Orto, S. Fornara , M. Reina, F. Rognoni Gratognini, G. Vigoni). He was among the first Milanese "landscape painters" to give centrality to the working method en plein air, in direct contact with the motif, and to adopt a teaching method that included long summer stays in mountainous or hilly areas. From the reading of the correspondence and from the analysis of the early work of U. Dell'Orto and S. Poma, who were his pupils between 1867 and 1872, we can see the custom of prolonged stay, and in selected groups, in Valtellina and on Monte Rosa. On such occasions, Lelli used to create, for teaching purposes, oils on small paper, leaving the students to draw the natural elements in pencil. Having set up his studio in via S. Primo, 6, he continued to exhibit regularly in Milan, also proposing himself to the Turin (1880, 1884) and Roman (1883) reviews. The monochord inspiration and a certain repetitiveness in the choice of motifs progressively irritated the critics, who began to severely review his works. Judged a "very civilized painter, very tight-knit, but limp and mannered and monotonous" at the Braidense exhibition of 1868, he ended up becoming, during the eighth and ninth decade of the century, the symbol of resistance to experimentation promoted by the disheveled, F. Carcano and E. Gignous in particular. In 1883, in commenting on the canvases exhibited in Rome (Monte del Tonale and granite quarry in Monte Orfano: location unknown), P. Levi commented: “nothing more flat, more false, more conventional”. He died in Milan on April 13, 1887. Most of his works can be found in private Lombard collections; significant nuclei are the Brera Art Gallery and the Milan Modern Art Gallery.


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