May 13, 2006

Gnoli’s ‘Modern Bestiary’

It was nearly two and a half years ago that I caught sight of an intruguing illustration posted by Signor Mori at his weblog, Cipango. I mentioned in a comment there that I hadn’t previously heard of its author, Domenico Gnoli, to which Sig. Mori replied that ‘Gnoli was actually a precocious genius, and precociously died. His works, quite strangely, are almost completely absent on the Internet. Maybe you should buy a book about him (I bought many!) and scan a few pictures on your site…”

Detail from 'Rinocerante al XV piano,' pen & ink drawing by Domenico Gnoli, 1968.


Detail from 'Donna-sogliola nel bagno,' pen & ink drawing with watercolour by Domenico Gnoli, 1968.

It took me a while, but I eventually got around to ordering a copy of L’opera grafica di Domenico Gnoli, which was published by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore in 1985. The present images are a half-dozen details of a set of drawings dating from 1968, and collectively entitled Bestiario Moderno, or, Cos’è un mostro, ‘What is a monster?’ Click on the details to see the pictures in full. These particular designs had first been printed in the 1983 volume about Gnoli published by FMR.

Detail from 'Chiocciola sul sofa,' pen & ink drawing by Domenico Gnoli, 1968.


Detail from 'Pipistrello nella stanza,' pen & ink drawing by Domenico Gnoli, 1968.

Gnoli was born in Rome in 1933. He studied in that city’s Accademia delle Belle Arti and also studied with the graphic artist Carlo Alberto Petrucci. His first exhibition, again in Rome, was in 1950. Gnoli first achieved renown as a theatre designer—the scenery and costumes he designed for a production of the Merchant of Venice in Zürich in 1953 led to a commission to do the same for an As You Like It in London, which was eventually staged in 1955. From 1956, however, Gnoli chose to devote his efforts to painting and illustration.

Detail from 'Gufo nel guardaroba,' pen & ink drawing by Domenico Gnoli, 1968.


Detail from 'Cigno-taratuga in automobile,' pen & ink drawing by Domenico Gnoli, 1968.

Numerous exhibitions and commissions followed, and Gnoli travelled a great deal, variously living in Paris, New York and London. In 1962, a fairy-tale he had written and illustrated was published—in English—as ‘Orestes, or, the Art of Smiling.’ By 1968, his work was in great demand in the US, with commissions that year from, among others, Sports Illustrated and Fortune. He died in New York in 1970.

Posted by misteraitch at May 13, 2006 09:42 AM

Thanks for some more lovely, amusing and just a little worrying pictures which really brightened my Sunday morning.

But what did Signor Mori mean by 'precociously died'?

Posted by: paulm on May 14, 2006 10:57 AM

I assume he meant that Gnoli died too young; before his time—he died in April 1970, a few weeks before what would have been his thirty-seventh birthday.

Posted by: misteraitch on May 14, 2006 11:14 AM

Wow, this really brings me back. I had not seen these lovely drawings in maybe 20 years. In Italy, where he is generally considered a ‘pop artist’, Gnoli is better known for muted, patterned paintings of mundane items such as neckties, haircuts and bed covers. The bestiario, for some reason, makes me think of a cross between Edward Gorey and Piero Fornasetti. I wish I could include a link to back my point, but good examples of Fornasetti’s dark, heavily cross-hatched drawings are hard to find online; unlike his silly/wonderful plates, which seem to be plentiful.

Posted by: Michelangelo on May 15, 2006 09:46 PM

Something else delicious that I might never have encountered without the energetic hunting and scanning of misteraitch. Thanks.

Gnolian monsters appear to only show one eye, unless they are flounder-monsters, and they are at home in domestic settings, particularly with ornate upholstery and drapes.

The upholstered setting holds true for most of the monsters I have known.

Posted by: marlyat2 on May 16, 2006 03:56 AM

Gnoli's beasts are so original (not to mention the backgrounds they are set against, I particularly enjoyed the lift and the wardrobe -- and the connotations evocable), I am curious how come special effects people have given them a miss, so far.

Posted by: Loxias on May 24, 2006 10:23 AM

To purchase original artworks by Gnoli, please contact:

Nicholas Borghese Sands
Sands & Company Fine Art, Inc.
30 East 76th Street (at Madison Ave.), 7th floor
New York, NY 10021
T. 212-988-3900 F. 212-772-3116

Posted by: Nicholas Borghese Sands on July 5, 2006 02:39 AM
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