An illustrious painter and social activist, Alfredo Volpi was a nineteenth century Italian born, Brazilian based artist. He was one of the key members of the group known as Grupo Santa Helena. It was founded in 1930s. The other major members of the group included Clóvis Graciano, Fulvio Pennacchi, Mario Zanini and Francisco Rebolo.
Born on April 14, 1896, in Lucca, Italy, Alfredo Volpi was later brought to Brazil by his parents where they made their permanent residence. Volpi had developed profound interest in arts since the very early age. He created his first major artwork at the age of twelve, which was deemed naturalist as it applied realism and seemed divorced from artificiality and artistic conventionality. In fact, he did it all on his own by teaching himself the various forms of arts. Others also viewed his early work as being expressionist, having a distinct distorted quality to it. The major influence on his early works was the Brazilian landscape painter Ernesto De Fiori.
In 1939, he painted a landscape, Mogi das Cruzes, for a patron which represented that epoch vividly. Later in his career he directed his attention toward an idiosyncratic style that employed abstract geometric shapes in his work. Sometimes he would switch between his work tools, like from oil paint to egg tempera. In 1944 he had the rare opportunity to display his work at the Itá Gallery in São Paulo. It is marked as his first one-man exhibition.
Besides painting multifarious subjects of his interest, Volpi also painted façades of houses in a unique fashion. These facades were perceived highly stylized and colorful and this theme seemed to encompass all his 1950s work. The art critics rightfully called his work the “historical façades”. Although he never claimed to be part of concretist movement, that artwork of his deemed influenced by concrete art form. The next decade witnessed the dawn of his trademark “banderinhas”. Those were small flags which were major part of Brazilian folklore, originated from the popular festa junina. The small-flag pattern he used displayed the saturated sense of color combination and balanced composition, which resulted in cementing Volpi’s position as one of the prominent artists of the era.
Among his other major wins, the Grand Prix for Brazilian painting was one, as he participated in the second São Paulo Art Biennial. He shared the award with Di Cavalcanti, which led to his nationwide fame. Moreover, Cavalcanti publically dismissed “flag painter” status of Volpi’s art. Some of his other major works include Frescoes for the Chapel of Our Lady of Fátima, Panel of church of Cristo Operário, The Discovery of America and Frescoes for Palácio dos Arcos, Brasília.
In the recent years, some of the most prestigious art museums are still displaying his work almost three decades after his demise. He died on April 28, 1988, São Paulo, Brazil. MAM São Paulo displayed his body of artwork in 2006. The next year Curitiba held an exhibition showcasing his paintings. Josef Albers had known to be the major influence on his work. His work manifested a profound knowledge of Italian Renaissance painters as he made use of tempera for his paintings. Alfredo Volpi received Best National Painter award in 1953 as being the crucial part of Brazilian cultural modernist movement.