Pizzinato spent his infancy in the village and surrounding countryside of Maniago, north of Pordenone in the Friuli Region, where the Dolomites rise steeply from the plane of the Tagliamento River. After the war his family moved to Pordenone, where his father, faced by financial ruin, committed suicide. Pizzinato was apprenticed first to a house painter, and then employed as an errand boy in a bank. Around this time his lifelong engagement with political thought was aroused time when he discovered Socialism and the writings of Karl Marx. An instinct for painting, already implicit in drawings of the mountains and the Maniago marketplace made secretly when he was a child, began to stir with his discovery through an architecture student friend of the art of the avant-garde (Picasso and Matisse) and with his purchase of The Lives of the Painters by Giorgio Vasari. His employer, the bank manager, arranged lessons for him with Pio Rossi. In 1930 Pizzinato, not yet twenty years of age, enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti, Venice, where he studied under Virgilio Guidi. Among his contemporaries and friends were Alberto Viani, Giulio Turcato, Santomaso, Mario De Luigi, Carlo Scarpa, Afro Basaldella and his brothers Mirko and Dino.
Much of his work in the 1930s—still lifes and landscape—is now lost, including La famiglia del saltimbanco, inspired by images from Picasso’s Rose Period. Forays into figure painting were rare, while his loosely brushed technique and narrow palette were characteristic of an artist exploring the lyrical values of his medium (shapes, tones, chiaroscuro) while at the same time transmitting the lyrical emotions present in his motifs.
Pizzinato showed a natural aptitude for gravitating towards avant-garde circles. In 1933 five of his paintings were shown at Milan’s leading contemporary gallery, Il Milione, and in 1936 a Marangoni scholarship sent him to Rome, where he came to know the circle of artists around Mirko—Cagli, Mafai, Capogrossi, and Guttuso. He frequented the Café Greco and its coterie of intellectuals (Roberto Longhi, Eugenio Montale, G.C. Argan, Cesare Brandi and others). In 1940 he was awarded a prize at the IX Mostra Intersindacale of Lazio.
In 1941 Pizzinato met his first wife Zaira Candiani to whom he dedicated a cycle of paintings called Giardini di Zaira and who was the mother of his daughter Patrizia. The outbreak of World War II brought Pizzinato back to Venice. He was already beginning to come to terms with Cubism. A burst of intense activity climaxed in two solo exhibitions in 1943, one at the Galleria del Milione, the other at the Galleria del Cavallino, Venice. In September 1943 Pizzinato, faithful to his personal convictions, abandoned painting and joined the Resistance, and from December 1944 till April 1945 was imprisoned by the Fascists. At this time he met Emilio Vedova and shared with him a passionate conviction that Italian art needed total renewal, in an abstract and expressionist style, using the Cubist grid of black lines, that would convey not only pictorial and spiritual values, but social and political ones too. In 1946, Pizzinato and Vedova together exhibited mural scale panels dedicated to the Resistance in the Palazzo delle Prigioni, Venice. In the same year, the optimism, enthusiasm and passion of a shared sense of avant-garde led to the formation of the Fronte Nuovo delle Arte. The Fronte Nuovo climaxed in a widely-acclaimed exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1948 (with Santomaso, Corpora, Guttuso, Viani, Birolli, Morlotti, Franchina and Leoncillo, as well as Pizzinato, Vedova and the critic Giuseppe Marchiori). Peggy Guggenheim purchased from this exhibition Pizzinato’s Primo Maggio (now New York, Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim). This and other paintings such as Cantieri (Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Gift of the Artist) share an undertow of Socialist subject matter expressed through angular forms, strident colors and a Futurist-derived drama of form.
A year later Pizzinato made his international debut when Alfred Barr and James Thrall Soby included his work in the exhibition ‘XXth Century Italian Art’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. A year later he was invited to the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. In the 1950s, the Catherine Viviano Gallery in New York was to play an important role creating a market for Italian art (including the work of Pizzinato) in the United States.
In 1950, Pizzinato, determined that his art be coherent with his firmly held beliefs, adapted his abstract expressionism to Socal Realism and political themes (paintings with titles such as Terra non Guerra, I difensori delle fabbricche, Saldatori). This was the year of one of his most celebrated masterpieces, Un fantasma percorre l’Europa (Venice, Galleria d’Arte Moderna Ca’ Pesaro). Between 1953 and 1956--his art by this time having shed the Cubo-Futurist style of his immediate post-war period in favor of pure narrative realism--he placed his art in the service of his fellow men by executing a series of noble frescoes in the hall of the Consiglio d’Amministrazione Provinciale of Parma.
The death of Pizzinato’s first wife at the end of 1962 coincided with a change in his style and subject matter, of which a series of lyrical and intimate garden scenes seem to provide the key to a period of introspection and a renewed study of chromatic and constructive values, of which his paintings in 1960-61 already give a hint. For example a 1961 Still Life in a private collection in Treviso is an exercise à la Morandi, while the stolid Operaio sull’impalcatura (Milan, private collection) of the same year seems to occupy a new world of abstract and delicately painted forms. This opportunity to reflect on the direction his painting should take may have been provided specifically by the retrospective of 85 paintings presented by the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Venice, in 1962.
In 1964 Pizzinato married his second wife, Clarice Allegrini, the subject of many portraits, and, it is said, the inspiration for the numerous and long-lived cycle of Gabbiani (an example is in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Gift of the Artist). In 1966 a room at the Venice Biennale was dedicated to his recent work, and in 1967 major retrospectives were mounted in Moscow and Leningrad. His international success continued with shows in Vienna, Berlin, and Dresden.
Since the early 1970s Pizzinato’s work has resembled a long and glorious St Martin’s summer: elegant and often powerful abstractions derived from figurative sources (nudes and seagulls for example), but often with non-figurative titles such as Aggressività, Struttura, Composizione, thinly painted in a high-keyed palette, with shallow Cubist-style space, and overlapping forms. Their musical character is sometimes explicit, as in the monumental Clavicembalo ben temperato of 1985 (private collection).
Pizzinato has written: “From the time I began painting, I have always sought the solution to the same problem: that of giving expression to a certain reality. That part of reality which, for me as a painter, is basically nothing other than my relationship as a man to the actuality of the world as it continually changes, which, in painting, I have always sought to render in its most constructive aspect.”*
Pizzinato lives and works in Venice.