Arturo Nathan, Self-Portrait with Closed Eyes, 1925
Arturo Nathan, born in 1891 in Trieste, a city that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time, was the eldest child of a rich and cosmopolitan Jewish family. Like his father, a merchant who was born in India and had lived in China, he was a British subject. His mother, Alice Luzzatto, was from Trieste. Nathan lived in the city until 1911, attended the Austro-Hungarian lyceum, and was taught in German (he read Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Kant). After earning a degree in classical studies, he was forced to relinquish his passion for philosophy to follow in his father’s footsteps, embarking on a career in commerce that took him first to London and then Genoa.
Arturo Nathan, Costa Ghiacciata con rovine, 1929
During the Great War he served in the British army in England. A fervent pacifist, he stated that he had only finished the third grade and, as a result, he was assigned menial jobs. In 1920 he returned to Trieste, but became seriously depressed. Consequently, the following year he went into psychoanalysis with Edoardo Weiss, a young doctor who had studied with Freud and encouraged him to take up painting as a form of therapy.
Arturo Nathan, Solitary Statue, 1930
In the early 1920s Nathan, a self-taught artist, befriended Leonor Fini (who was born in Argentina but grew up in Trieste) and Carlo Sbisà, and began to frequent Trieste’s intellectual circles, where he met notables such as Umberto Saba and Italo Svevo. In 1925 he went to Rome to meet Giorgio de Chirico: the artist’s works made a deep impression on Nathan, who continuously took up the master’s iconographic motifs from then on. De Chirico was equally impressed with Nathan and attempted - in vain - to have him invited to participate in the first Novecento exhibition curated by Margherita Sarfatti in Milan in 1926.
Arturo Nathan, Untitled, c. 1930
In 1926 Nathan took part in the Tre Venezie art exhibitions in Padua and showed his works at the Venice Biennale, returning in 1928, 1930, 1932 and 1936. He also participated in important group exhibitions of Italian painting staged internationally. In January 1929 Nathan staged his first and only solo show, along with Leonor Fini and Carlo Sbisà, in Milan at Vittorio Barbaroux’s Galleria Milano. He also entered works in the 1st and 2nd Quadriennale d’Arte Nazionale in Rome (1931 and 1935). The first monograph on the artist, written by Jacques Girmounsky, was published in French in 1935 and was followed by Umbro Apollonio’s in 1936.
Arturo Nathan, The Exiled, 1928
During this period Nathan also participated in important collective exhibitions on Italian painting in Barcelona (1929), Vienna (1933) and Budapest (1936). When Italy entered the war in 1940, Nathan was banished to the Marche, remaining there until the summer of 1943. He was then sent to the concentration camp of Carpi and deported to Germany in 1944, first to the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen and then Biberach, where he died in November of that year.