Pio Santini 1908-1986


Biography - updated [24/08/11 ]

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Pio Santini was born on April 17th, 1908 close to Rome, in Tivoli, the "Tibur Superbum" of the ancient Romans, a sublime little town with lots of cascades and cascatellas hanging on to the foot hills of Apennin and doted with artistic treasures from the Antiquity and Renaissance such as the Adriana Villa or the Villa d’Este. Everybody was filled with joy in the family house which overhangs the old "cittadella", at number 26 via Sibilla.(ill. 1).
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"E nato l’erede !" his uncle Bernardino wrote in his diary, expressing the happiness that was overwhelming the whole family, with the birth of the heir to the name so expected after his eldest sisters Elvira and Gilda (ill. 2)! He also noted that on this same April 17th, the she-cat of the house gave birth to a litter, a coincidence which was to delight Pio Santini, seeing there the augur of his passion for the cats.

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Pio shared his childhood and his youth between Tivoli and the seaside family villa of the in Grottammare, by the Adriatic Sea (ill.3).

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He showed a precocious and pronounced artistic taste and gifts, to begin with drawing and painting. From his childhood drawings, as early as 5 or 6 years old, he showed a gift and a technique above the average. Once, he discovered his grand-father’s colours and brushes in a nook of the house (ill. 4) and he began his own training, then he benefited from his friend’s advice, the Tiburtine painter Edoardo Tani, thanks to whom Pio quickly acquired sound basic techniques and a good control of his art. The first sculpture he made at the age of 16 was a head of Dante Alighieri. Count Colonna, a friend of the family’s, astounded by the quality of his work, ordered his own bust from the young Pio.
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The result was surprisingly powerful (ill. 5). Very impressed, the Count made him meet the great sculptor Carlo Fontana (1865-1956) -author of one of the quadrigae looking down the Victor-Emmanuel II monument in Rome- Fontana advised him to practise draughtsmanship to the extreme, whatever way he would choose later. Theatre appeared very early too, among Pio Santini’s passions, and remained so for a very long time. Besides, he transmitted this passion to his sons, and two of them became professional actors. Nevertheless, his family imposed higher education on him, and he graduated as an electrotechnician engineer. Once he had answered his family’s expectations and done his military service as a cavalry officier, Pio Santini could attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, the place where he would teach a few years later (ill. 6). Pio Santini lived in Tivoli until 1934.
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In 1933 in Grottammare, by the Adriatic Sea (ill. 7), he met Yolande Croci, daughter of the wellknown Milanese journalist Pierre Croci who, after having managed the “Corriere della Sera” in Milan for a time, settled in Paris with his family. Pio married Yolande in 1934 in Saint-Mammès, a nice village near Paris long frequented by the impressionist painter, and where the Croci family owned a beautiful property on the bank the Seine (ill. 8).
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But before, as early as 1933, Pio Santini moved to Paris, in Montparnasse, the artists area, in the picturesque Daguerre street, there he settled in his first Parisian studio (ill. 9). Because of that, he can be considered as belonging to the Academy of Paris, a significant artistic movement of the first half of the 20th century in which, besides Amedeo Modigliani, other Italian artists such as Massimo Campigli, Filippo de Pisis, Gino Severini, Gino Gregori or Luigi Corbellini also took part. For a while, the young couple lives either in Paris or in Tivoli.
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While attending the classes of the Estienne School for a further training in plastic art, Pio Santini started to attract attention in various Parisian Salons (particularly the Winter Salon (ill. 10), the Independents’ Salon and the French Artists’one) and to find a place in the Parisian universe of painting, as is shown in the press of the time. A first child, Pierre, was born in 1938 in Paris. Unfortunately the war broke out in 1939 and stopped a very promising career for a long time. However, the family settled in Paris, where finally Pio Santini lived and practised his art until the end of his life.                                      
Pio Santini - 1983 (ill. 11a)
The conflict between his native and his adopted country upset him a lot. It was certainly during this period that the rooted idea of a united and reconciled Europe was born in his mind, an idea now passed down to his three sons. In a way, he played a part in the resuming cultural exchanges between France and Italy, by founding, the association "the Romans in Paris" after the war, and especially by creating and animating the Villa d’Este Prize for about ten years, rewarding each year a French artist or writer by offering him or her a one month stay at the Villa, in Tivoli. Later, the “Montparnasse Prize” would reward Italian artists in Paris in the same way. A second son, Claude, was born in 1941, then a third, Mario, in 1945. Times were hard and Pio, definitively settled in his large studio of the Malakoff Villa, near theTrocadéro (ill.11), could not run his painter career the way he wanted.
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(ill. 12 - 13) While devoting himself to painting, he worked as an art illustrator for edition and press, and left us a rich but unrecognized work from this period. In the early of the 1960’s, Pio Santini decided, imperiousely and bravely, to live on his painting. A member of the Society of the Independent Artists since 1934, he then took an active part in many group exhibitions in France and abroad.

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(ill. 14) He regularly exhibited in Parisian salons most of which he was a member: the Independents’ Salon, the Autumn and Winter Salons, the National Salon of the Fine Arts, the Comparison Salon.

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(ill. 15) As an assiduous participant in the prestigious Salon of the French Artists, he was often rewarded there: Great Price of the Salon in 1970, then in 1974 (ill. 15), gold Medal in 1971, Prizewinner of the Ernest Marché Prize in 1974 (ill. 16),

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of the Finez-Planard Prize (Taylor Foundation) in 1981 J M. Avy Prize (Taylor Foundation) in 1983, and Roger Deverin Prize in 1984.  II was also selected for the Paul-Louis Weiller Portrait Prize, then in 1975 in a selection of the French Artists’ Salon for exhibitions in the Soviet Union (Pouchkine museum in Moscow, the Hermitage Museum in Saint-Petersburg). In Italy, he regularly took part in the Quadrennial of Rome and Biennial exhibition in Milan (of which he was also a member. Besides, he organized many personal exhibitions, among them:
Gallery Barbizon (Paris, 1955), Gallery La Fontanella (Rome, 1959), Villa d'Este (Tivoli, 1959), Gallery Boissière (Paris, 1960), Gallery d'Atri (Paris, 1962), Gallery La Verritrè (Milan, 1963), Gregory Art Gallery (New York, 1966), Gallery Ror Volmar (Paris, 1966), Gallery Okada, (Tokyo, 1975) and Gallery Bernheim-Jeune (Paris, 1980).

In 1979, in the twilight of his life, for the 7th Tiburtine Week of Art and Culture, Pio Santini was elected "Tiburtino dell' anno" and thus became freeman of his city, sharing this honour with other personalities from Tivoli like Professor Emilio Segrè, Nobel Prize of Physics. He was also elected member of the Academy of the Five hundreds of Rome and several other of Italian art academies. Pio Santini lived his last years in his house of Garches, near Paris. He worked there until the last moment and died of illness at the age of 78 some time after his wife, Yolande.