Born in Comiso, Sicily, in 1915, Salvatore Fiume was a painter, sculptor, architect, writer, and stage designer.
At age sixteen, he won a scolarship to the Institute of Fine Arts in Urbino in northern Italy, from where, after finishing his studies, he went to Milan in 1936. There, he became friends with several important writers, including Salvatore Quasimodo, the Sicilian poet who was to receive the Nobel Prize in 1959.
In Milan Fiume wanted to make a career as a painter, however his first success came in the literary field following the publication in 1943 of his autobiographical novel Viva Gioconda! (Hurrah for Gioconda!) written during the Second World War. A few years before that, he had moved to Ivrea with his wife Ines and son Luciano to become art director of the Olivetti cultural magazine. This artistic publication was particularly close to the heart of chairman Adriano Olivetti whose collaborators were such distinguished intellectuals as Franco Fortini and Leonardo Sinisgalli.
Wanting to be a full-time artist, in 1946 Fiume left Olivetti and moved to the little town of Canzo, 50 km north of Milan, where he settled in a huge 19th Century spinning-mill which was to become his home and atelier for the rest of his life.
His first exhibition, in 1949, was in Milan at the Galleria Borromini where his Islands of Statues attracted the attention of the critics and these paintings soon became known throughout the art community. This interest was followed by an invitation from the Biennale of Venice in 1951, where Fiume exhibited a large triptych on the same theme. Soon after that, one of his "islands" was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art of New York, while the New York based Life magazine purchased for its headquarters two of his island-of-statues re-interpretations of Manhattan.
Requested in 1949 by the enlightened industrialist Bruno Buitoni Sr to illustrate "the adventures, misfortunes, and glories" of the old city of Perugia, Fiume completed between 1949 and 1952 ten large paintings inspired from Italian Quattrocento masters like Piero della Francesca and Paolo Uccello. Following a donation in 1998 to the Regione Umbria, the collection was moved to Palazzo Donini, its 15th Century prestigious head office in Perugia, where now the "Sala Fiume" is open to the public.
In 1950 the noted Italian architect Gio Ponti, who was in charge for the interior decorations of the Andrea Doria liner under construction in Genova at that time, asked Fiume to paint a huge canvas (450x9 ft) to be affixed to the walls surrounding the first class banquet hall. In that painting, which took him over one year to finish, Fiume was asked to represent an imaginary Italian Renaissance city where modern visitors could have a pre-view of some of the masterpieces they would encounter in Italy. Before he was assigned the job, Fiume was asked to paint a perfect copy of Leonardo's Monna Lisa, which he did.
In 1962 a travelling exhibition of about 100 Fiume paintings was hosted in Germany by a number of museums in various cities including Cologne and Regensburg. In 1973, accompanied by his friend and well known photographer Walter Mori, Fiume travelled to Ethiopia where he painted a group of rocks in the Babile Valley, 40 km south-east of Harar. The rock paintings were documented in a monograph published in Italy in the same year.
In 1974 the Palazzo Reale of Milan hosted a large anthological exhibition by Fiume, his first great success. On that occasion, his African Monna Lisa, now at the Vatican Museum, was presented for the first time.
In 1975 the little town of Fiumefreddo in Southern Italy gave Fiume a free hand to revitalize its old historical center. In the following years he frescoed the interiors of the old, half- delapidated castle, he painted the vaulted roof of the S.Rocco Chapel, and made two bronze sculptures which can be seen in two panoramic squares overlooking the Tirrenian Sea.
In 1985 Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome hosted another important exhibition by Salvatore Fiume.
In 1987 under the title "De Architectura Pingendi", a Fiume exhibition was inaugurated at the Sporting D'Hiver Palace in Montecarlo by Prince Ranieri of Monaco.
In 1991 he was invited to exhibit his architectural projects at the International Show of Architecture in Milan. In the same year in Moscow an exhibition of his took place at the International Exhibition Center.
In 1992 Fiume exhibited at Villa Medici, venue of the French Academy in Rome.
In 1993, attracted by the fascinating story of Paul Gauguin's adventurous life, Fiume travelled to the Polynesian island of Tahiti to visit the places where the great French master had died after spending so many years there. As a tribute to Gauguin's art, Fiume donated one of his paintings to the local Gauguin Museum.
Fiume's official debut as a sculptor was in 1994 at the Arte Immagine Santerasmo Gallery of Milan. His production as a sculptor includes stone, bronze, fiberglass, and ceramic works. Some of these pieces are of large dimensions such as the bronze statue at the European Parliament House in Strasburg, the stone groups at the S.Raffaele Hospitals in Rome and Milan, and the Bronze Group for the Wine Fountain at Marsala, Sicily. One of his large bronzes belongs to the Sculpture Museum of Portofino, Italy.
Fiume's first experience as stage and costume designer was with the Scala Theater of Milan, in 1950, a collaboration which continued well into the 1960s. He also worked with other important opera houses such as the Covent Garden of London, the Teatro dell'Opera of Rome, and the Teatro Massimo of Palermo.
Fiume's talent for writing was in part sacrificed throughout his life by his overwhelming passion for the visual arts. Yet, he still found time and inspiration for writing and publishing a few more novels, many short stories, nine comedies, one tragedy, and two books of poems. He also published "Pagine Libere", a collection of unconventional writings on art and life. In 1988 his literary achievements earned him an honorary degree in Modern Literature from the University of Palermo.
His works can be found in some of the most important museums throughout the world: the Museum of Modern Art of New York (MOMA), the Hermitage Museum of St.Petersburg, the Pushkin Museum of Moscow, and the Museum of Modern Art of Milan.
Since 1978 an important collection of 33 paintings by Salvatore Fiume can be found in the Vatican Museums.
He died on June 3, 1997.
Works by Salvatore Fiume in Public Spaces
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