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Alberto Magnelli’s journey to Imprimerie Arnéra: Colourful linocuts intrinsic to 20th century abstraction

Alberto Magnelli was a prominent Italian painter, who’s early work explored both Futurism and Cubism before he concentrated on pure forms of Abstraction. Discover the story behind the original linocut prints which the inspirational artist meticulously carved and printed by hand aged 82, under the masterful eye of Hidalgo Arnéra.

During the second world war (1939-1945), Magnelli lived in the town of Grasse, in Provence. As materials were scarce, the self-taught artist made collages and painted gouache works on griddled slate slabs. These works would serve as inspiration for his later explorations in printing processes, including the abstract geometric linocuts that he would carve and print at the prestigious Imprimerie Arnera, in Vallauris. 

The significance of San Lazzaro

In 1929, the Italian writer and art publisher, Gualtieri Di San Lazzaro published two monographs titled ‘XXe Siecle’. The first volume was dedicated to Henri Matisse, while the second volume was dedicated to Pablo Picasso. By 1938, San Lazzaro had launched an illustrated periodical of the same name, which included contributions from Wassily Kandinksy, Hans Arp and Joan Miró.

Fast forward to 1970, and San Lazzaro was commissioning Magnelli to create a volume of prints titled, ‘L’Album de la Ferrage’. The volume brought together the three printing techniques that the artist was experimenting in at the time – etching, lithography and linocut.

Magnelli created four linocuts for the volume, which were based on an oil on paper that he had painted a few years prior. The collection had been in development since 1965, and were the first to be printed at Imprimerie Arnéra. Meanwhile, the lithographs that featured in the series were printed by the masters at Atelier Mourlot in Paris.

Composition sans titre I, 1970, original linocut print
Composition sans titre II, 1970, original linocut print

La Magnanerie de la Ferrage, 1970

The success of the volume saw San Lazzaro instantly place a new commission with the artist. For the second volume, titled, ‘La Magnanerie de la Ferrage’, Magnelli focused on the development of his linocut process, and created prints in luminous three, four and five-way colour.

In a letter to his brother on 6th August, he writes of his excitement for the new collection, and the joy of working with Hidalgo Arnéra, ‘I am making six new linocuts large enough for a new Album. And they will be in colour. And as on the coast, I have a magnificent printer in Vallauris (the same one who worked for Picasso), I want to end up here so I can work with him and change shapes and colours if necessary’.

By October, the 82 year old Magnelli was hard at work alongside Hidalgo Arnéra. Though he complained of the hard work the linocutting process was in his written correspondence to San Lazzaro – in part due to the hardness of the linoleum available – his fastidious attention to detail and passion for the works meant that he carried out as much of the process as he was physically able.

La Magnanerie de la Ferrage VII, 1970, original linocut print
La Magnanerie de la Ferrage IV, 1970, original linocut print

By the end of December 1970, the process was complete. From the final six plates, hundreds of linocut prints were carefully made, with several colour variations created from each design.

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