Matteo Olivero was born in Acceglio on 5th June 1879, of a seventy-year old father Matteo, who had worked as a stocker on merchant steamship sailing off from Savona, while the mother, Lucia Rosano, was younger than her husband.
Matteo’s life has been marked by the presence of that excellent mother who, though remaining always in the shadows, saw and sustained that talented son till the end by operating courageous decisions (like selling her properties in Acceglio in order to move to Dronero and allow him continue his studies, then moving to Cuneo for the Art School, again to Turin for Accademia Albertina.
In the end they chose Saluzzo, a town loved by the painter for its elegant, humble and welcoming atmosphere so near to Matteo’s bohemian spirit). When Matteo was nine, his father died. Since that time his mother would be a more than necessary presence in his life.
At the Cuneo Technical School “Matteo Olivero and Ermete Revelli, a schoolmate, became great friends. Revelli was Nuto’s father, and Matteo would be god-father of the late partisan and writer. At the end of the courses he wanted to be photographed with a palette in his hand, as if to say he is ready to start a new adventure in Turin” (Daniela Bernagozzi)
Andrea Tavernier, P. Celestino Gilardi, Giacomo Grosso and Leonardo Bistolfi were Matteo Olivero’s teachers at Accademia Albertina in Turin.
Matteo Olivero - Divisionist Painter
His career as a painter started soon, in fact he showed an outstanding talent in drawings and colours. But it was during the journey to the National Exposition in Paris in 1900 when he decided to choose Divisionism as his favourite technique. In Paris he could get in touch with John Segantini’s works together with those of other Divisionism painters. Later on it was Joseph Pellizza Volpedo (famous for his “Fourth State” near which Olivero’s “Last Huts” incidentally had been exposed at the Quadrennial Exhibition in Turin). With Pellizza, Olivero established a deep friendship by correspondence, they never met.
Divisionism Painting, we know, was colour separated.
Physics studies of the time, brought the attention to the decomposition of light and recomposition of the same. In paintings colours were placed near each other, without mixing them, yet keeping them separated, divided, from which the name Divisionism.
“Divisionism” is the Italian way to express the French “Pointillisme” whose leader was Signac. For a long time Italian Divisionism has been considered inferior compared with Pointillisme and other more international trends. But we must keep into consideration that Divisionism started in Italy when nineteenth century painting was finding some difficulties, almost dying, in fact vanguard paintings of the beginning of the twentieth century were rising” (Roberto Baravalle).
Olivero, friend of Galimberti’s and Revelli’s families in Cuneo, used to be accustomed to higher levels in the society of his time, but he always loved to be close to the humblest people, in pubs and in the simplicity of the life on the mountains, where he felt to be at home like nowhere else.
He always had the greatest success and acknowledgement, he traveled to Turin, Venice, he went to expositions in Genoa, Rome, Paris, Geneva, Munich, Bruxelles… at Venice Biennial Exhibition, or the “Triennale” in Milan, but in the end he used to return to Acceglio or on other mountains like the Sanctuary at Castelmagno, or in Varaita Valley or Po Valley alternating those high lands with Saluzzo. Matteo Olivero always maintained a strong bond with his roots, those mountains where he was born, where he returned regularly, always.
In 1908 he wrote, “The majority of my paintings are landscapes and I painted them in Macra Valley, directly from nature, only Nature is my teacher”.
He had a friendly, cheerful character, entertainer in groups of friends. So long he invented a mask, “Rigadin”, he used to wear at carnival in Saluzzo. He lived both his life and his art ironically, auto-ironically and playfully, so that his masterpieces and his decisions have that kind of lightness and cheer that make him be at ease with everyone.
“Till the coming of the Great War (the First World War) his career has known only a continuous growth, awards, certifications and sales.
What guaranteed his success were especially his great landscape paintings of the beloved Cuneo mountains, definite wide visions, painted with an unfailing talent for various colour shades and bright contrasting colours of the light as they celebrate a metaphysical limit, the solemnity of the mountains under the bright light of winter snow.
His grammar of divided colour left its place to a less tiny brushstroke, compensated by courageous colour contrasts in less imposing works and in sketches, which are of an Impressionism nature and which, in the twentieth century, had been more appreciated than his paintings of a great, huge work. During the decades of great artistic revolutions, with which he always had got a contradictory relationship, he remained faithful to his first formation, not without a certain controversy, especially towards Futurism” (Rosanna Maggio Serra - former Director of GAM in Turin and Curator of the Matteo Olivero Gallery, Saluzzo).
Being a person endowed with a gentleness of spirit so profound and sensitive, the First World War, was devastating for him.
He more suffered the war than talking about it. His health started to show the worm that gnawed inside. He alternated moments of serenity with other of depression. His artistic production however continued, when needed he worked as portraitist or painter of sacred art, but his main interest continued to be nature, especially on the mountains, in the light, that made warm and embracing that very snow he knew how to paint in its reality of brightness and delicate shadows.
After his mother’s death and the missing artistic acknowledgments, depression never left him, notwithstanding the care of the Burgos’ who welcomed him in their house. And in Verzuolo, on 28 April 1932 he committed suicide falling from the window of his study. After his death, in his studio, an uncompleted painting he left on his easel, a landscape of Po Valley with Monviso on the background.
Fortunato Bonelli, a great estimator of Matteo Olivero, likes to say that Maté did not choose a specific, picturesque, spectacular view on the mountains, he used to paint simply what was outside the house he was living in. He gets the light coming there and create a masterpiece out of a normal, insignificant glimpse.