Women’s work, Contardo Barbieri, 1954 ca.

Contardo Barbieri (1900-1966)

Painting technique: oil on canvas


In the foreground, a group of female figures is depicted, in which there is only one male, but relegated to the background. On the right there are two girls facing each other, the one furthest away is drawing, while the one from behind, at whose feet a cat sits, is intent on painting on a canvas placed on an easel. She is observing the model to be portrayed: two old-fashioned girls, one seated, semi-dressed in a long white cloak that also covers her head and her partner, kneeling in front of a basket full of fruit and vegetables.

Next to it another small group, more heterogeneous. A young woman dressed in white is watching a little girl who seems to run towards the girl on the far right, dressed in country clothes and carrying a basket of fruit under her arm. Among these, leaning against a tree there is a woman also dressed in a peasant manner who holds a small wineskin in her hands, next to her the only male figure is supported by a shepherd’s stick.

In the background a natural landscape with a hilly profile, dotted with trees, but also with characters caught in rural activities such as harvesting and sowing. Surrounded by nature there are also rural houses, but also industrial buildings with tall chimneys and more modern constructions, such as the mighty arch, which acts almost as an architectural backdrop on the left of the painting. Signed “C. Barbieri ”on the right.


Historical-critical analysis:

The large canvas dates back to about the mid-fifties, and was created for the Mariani house in Milan, as also reported in the catalog of the exhibition dedicated to the artist and held in 1995 at the Civic Museums of Pavia. The painting is characterized by a choral dimension, celebrating the female world, in particular linked to a rural and rural dimension. The call and the reference model is certainly the one well known to our artist, born in a small town in the Pavia countryside, surrounded by hilly reliefs.

The female figures are represented in different ages, intent on carrying out typical activities of the peasant world, but also uses that Barbieri certainly knew in more detail. In fact, it is no coincidence that the protagonists of the group in the foreground are the four young women who re-propose a school of painting en plein air, two artists and two models, posing and dressed to present a real atelier.

Despite being a work that is placed at an advanced stage in the painter’s career, this panel achieves and recalls the results of the decorative frescoes of the 1930s. Here, too, the realism that distinguishes the artist’s pictorial corpus is tangible, derived from both the tradition of the late nineteenth century and the style that derives from the twentieth century group; in this case the dating to around 1954 can be clearly seen in the climate of rebirth that characterizes the years after World War II. The landscape is emblematic of Barbieri’s conception, an honor to the rural life immersed in the countryside, but at the same time a reminder of industrialization that was affirming itself in those years, which, although present, still remains relegated to the margins, in the distance.

Even the warm and sunny palette helps to emphasize the celebration of the rural world so dear to Contardo Barbieri, a real tribute to his land and its origins. The attention to a representation familiar to the artist himself is also demonstrated by the models he repeatedly used, Mirella, Nerina, Alba, who here become a celebration of a dimension of small humanity well known to him.


Contardo Barbieri (Broni, November 26, 1900 – Milan, March 7, 1966) from an early age he attended first the Civic School of Painting of Pavia and subsequently the courses of the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera (including those of Cesare heel and Ambrogio Alciati ), from which he graduated in 1921.

If in the first phase of his career his painting shows an adhesion to the late nineteenth-century figurative tradition, starting from the second half of the twenties he approaches the twentieth century group, from which a more solid and synthetic, while remaining faithful to the original realist matrix. In 1927 he had his debut on the Italian artistic idiot, with participation in the “National Art Exhibition” at the Milanese Palazzo della Permanente; it was rededicated the following year, when he exhibited the Venice Biennale. The importance of his personality and production is evidenced by the various competitions in which he participated and the numerous awards he won, but above all by the fact that he was entrusted with various teachings throughout the course of his career.

In this regard, the most prestigious roles were certainly the direction of the Carrara Academy of Bergamo, starting from 1931, a fortunate parenthesis placed among the teachings at the Brera Academy.

Active in the political life of the country, so much so that he volunteered for the countryside in East Africa in the 1930s, the fall of the fascist regime and ideology caused him a profound crisis, which also affected his artistic production. In fact, starting from the fifth decade of the twentieth century, his works are characterized by the continuous reference to models and schemes derived from ancient art.


– Contardo Barbieri. Un libero Novecento, catalogo della mostra (Pavia, Musei Civici, 1995) a cura di Stefano Fugazza, Alda Guarnaschelli, Charta, Milano, 1995, pp. 18-19.

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