Suisse, Caslano, July 16th 1841 – April 1914, Paris

Born in Caslano, Italian speaking Switzerland, Luigi Chialiva is the son of Abbondio Chialiva and Maria Medina. His rich family was politically very involved and had to move to Mexico before coming back to Italy. From 1842 to 1865, he lives in the villa Tanzina at Lugano where he get in touch with some influent political men as Mazzini and Cattaneo.Very young, interested by architecture, he becomes student a political refugee named Gottfried Semper (1803-1879). From 1859 to 1861, he studies at the Polytechnic Institute of Zurich and from 1861 to 1863, for painting, in Milano, with the landscape painter Antonio Fontanesi (1818-1882). During this trip, he meets Richard Wagner (1813-1883), is very impressed and becomes to be one of his admirers.
He got his architect certification in 1861 but dropped this job in 1864, being attracted by painting. In 1863-1864, he was a private student of Carlo Mancini (1829-1910) and went to the Brera academy, where he exhibits some of his artworks in 1864. He participates to some exhibitions in Milano and Torino. He shows there his first official artwork named “Le Marché aux herbes sur la place Castello de Milan” (The aromatic herbs market on the Castello plaza of Milano), then fifteen more from 1865 to 1870. Starting as a landscape painter, he became painting animals.
In 1867, he went to study painting of the nude body at the Royal academy of Milano. The same year, he discovered France during his trip to the Paris Universal exhibition with an already very well known artist met in Roma, Ferdinand Heilbuth (1826-1889). His father died in 1870. He then visited the Torino exhibition with his friend Ferdinand Heilbuth and moved to France in 1872. He became friend with Edgar Degas (1834-1917) of Italian origins and had relationship with an Italian colony of painters named Circola delle Polenta including Giuseppe De Nittis (1846-1884). Very often joining this colony was the famous writer Emile Zola (1840-1902) and the Goncourt brothers. He also had some contacts with Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).
In 1874, he moved in the village of Ecouen, in a large house located 4 rue Adeline (Adeline street). This house has a large workshop shown in an engraving of Cornelia Conant published in the Harper’s New Monthly Magazine: a large room without any specific decoration, closed by a large glass window. Behind of it, visitors are surprised to see a shed with sheep, cows, some horses and a donkey. The artist has his models close to his easel any time of the day.
Later on, Luigi Chialiva sign a contract with the famous art dealer Adolphe Goupil (1806-1893), giving him the opportunity to show his paintings in some further away exhibitions. From 1874 to 1883, he travels in some French areas, like the Dauphiné, Ile-de France, Normandy, the UK and Italy, specially Venice where he exhibits in 1903, 1905, and 1914, Milano in 1906 and Torino in 1908.
He met his American wife, Corine Bujac during one of his travels in the US. He married her in 1874. She became his assistant.
A lot of English and American artists passing by Ecouen stopped by his house. He always had tight relationships with them. Some of them settled down in the village likeJohn George Todd (1832-1898), Eliphalet Frazer Andrews (1835-1915), his brother-in-law Carl John Blenner (1862-1952), Marie Guise Newcomb (1865-1895). He was a very generous man. On January 5th 1909, he made a donation to the Italian embassy to help people after a terrible earthquake in the Messina and Reggio de Calabria areas.
Luigi Chialiva was an artist but a Chemist as well. He invented and took a patent for a technique to stabilize the pastels pigments. He built a business to sale it with two other painters: Jacques-Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) he met in the UK, and Pierre Georges Jeanniot (1848-1934), friend of Edgard Degas. This invention is lost for ever because, before his death, Chialiva never described in full details the ingenious process.
Probably under the influence of Jean-Baptiste Corot (1796-1875) who came in Ecouen and draw a house of the village, year after year, his painting style evolved toward the impressionism.
He died in Paris, 48 due de Douai (Douai street), where he retired in 1891. He is buried at the Montparnasse Saint-Vincent cemetery.
His son, known as an architect, donated to the Village of Ecouen one of his father’s painting: “Route en Auvergne” (Road in Auvergne).
A lot of Chialiva paintings are part of public and private collections in Italy but his fame is, most of all, in the UK and the US.

 

For further information, please read the book “L’Ecole d’Ecouen, une colonie de peintres au XIXéme siècle”, unfortunately only available in French for the time being (but we are working on it).