Luigi De Servi
Portrait of the Artist



Luigi De Servi

Luigi De Servi was born in Lucca on 4 June in Piazza San Giovanni, son of the painter Pietro and Aurelia Lucarelli.

He left the Gymnasium in his second year to enrol in the Royal Institute for Fine Arts in Lucca. There he was the pupil of Luigi Norcini. His father thoroughly objected to his son’s love of painting but finally gave way to his determination.

Genoa, 31 October. The 29th Exhibition of the Society for Promotion of Fine Arts opened with Luigi De Servi exhibiting four works.

He went to Argentina with Niccola, his older sister, who worked as a seamstress. His twelve siblings remained in Lucca. They left from the port of Genoa on a steamship, with 300 lire each, travelling third class and arriving in Argentina after thirty-seven days at sea.
In Buenos Aires he displayed a few pictures he had brought from Lucca in the window of the Burgos and Bossi Brothers’ shop, one of the typical shops selling artists’ requirements and exhibiting pictures. He had sold them all by the end of the week. Within a few months he had obtained important commissions. He established himself as a portrait painter and was soon painting portraits for the political and economic elite of Argentina. He signed the work he did in Argentina “Luis De Servi”. He began to send his family money every month and invited his brothers to come and join him and find work there. Only his younger sister stayed at home with her parents.

He painted frescoes in the “Casa Rosada” in Buenos Aires. The government commissioned him to decorate the entrance to La Plata Museum (four large pictures showing The Primitive Life of Argentinian Man).

He painted The Triumph of the Province of Buenos Aires in the vestibule of the Senators’ Chamber in Buenos Aires.

The Government of the Province of Buenos Aires commissioned portraits of the seventy governors from 1810 to 1887 to he hung in the Casa Rosada. When the revolution broke out, Luigi lost almost all the money he had invested in shares in a bank. He decided to return to Lucca with what he had left.

He returned briefly to Lucca leaving for Argentina again on 17 July.

Buenos Aires. Italian exhibition in the Casa Repetto, Nocetti & Co.
Buenos Aires. De Servi produced a work for La Plata Museum showing little Indians with an elephant.

Luigi and one of his brothers returned to Italy.

Lucca. De Servi opened his own studio. In July, the local government gave him a commission to paint frescos in twelve arches in the local cemetery, together with Michele Marcucci and Domenico Martinelli, both from Lucca.
On the Feast Day of the Holy Cross, De Servi exhibited in a group exhibition in the Church of Santa Maria Bianca.
Work in Lucca was scarce, however, and De Servi went to work in London for “twenty months”. There he worked primarily as a portrait painter but how long he actually stayed is uncertain. He returned to Italy at the request of his father to work in Varazze painting frescoes in the Church of Santa Caterina.

Varazze. He painted the fresco Triumph of Love in the drawing room on the first floor of Villa Lavarello.

Paris. De Servi spent a short time in Paris at the invitation of the Argentinian art patron Augusto Belin Sarmiento for whom he had painted a number of portraits in Buenos Aires. He received numerous commissions for portraits in Paris.
In Lucca on 2 July Luigi married Olimpia Landi.
10 May-5 June. He painted two frescoes in the apse of the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Alassio.

Luigi and Olimpia moved to Genoa where they stayed for four years while Luigi worked on numerous commissions, both public and private. Their first daughter, Valentina, was born on 3 August, their second, Laura, two years later.

Torre del Lago. The work of decorating the ground floor drawing room in Giacomo Puccini’s house was in progress. The composer was happy to have the “combined Nomellini-DeServi forces” at work in his house. Working there were Plinio Nomellini, Ferruccio Pagni, Edoardo De Albertis and Luigi De Servi. The work was completed in March.

Puccini and De Servi met twice in Genoa where the painter was living once more. In the following year he was invited to take part in a group show in the studio of photographer Gigi Sciutto. Others exhibiting included Leonardo Bistolfi, Paolo Troubetskoy, Plinio Nomellini, De Albertis and Maragliano.

Genoa. On 19 October, the frescoes in the Genova Brignole railway station, which had taken De Servi a whole year to complete, were officially unveiled for the press.

Rome. On 17 May, De Servi was appointed Knight of the Italian Crown on the nomination of the Minister of Public Education (Royal Decree no. R. 14064 of 29 July).

Genoa. In May De Servi became a member of “Young Italy”, an alternative group to the old guard in art.
On 13 May he left Genoa and sailed to Montevideo and Buenos Aires, where he had been invited to paint portraits of various high-placed Argentinians, including President Don Roque Saenz Pena.
He exhibited in Paris in the Autumn Salon from 1 October to 8 November.

Buenos Aires. De Servi, his wife and their daughters settled in Buenos Aires, where he painted frescoes in the Presidential Salon in the Government Palace as well as a panel for the Italy and River Plate Bank called Italy on the Sea of the River Plate.

De Servi and his wife returned to Italy and considered moving to Rome. Meantime, Luigi began painting more portraits.

Lucca. On 18 November, his painting of St Christopher was mounted on the high altar in the Church of San Cristoforo.

Viareggio. An individual exhibition at the Kursal in a room in the Casino.

Lucca. In April, he had an individual exhibition with eleven new works including Madonna of Peace, Portrait of Mario Davini, Portrait of Countess Isabella Lamba Doria Sardi and her children, Portrait of Countess Lazzoni with her son, anda self-portrait.

After an individual exhibition in Viareggio, Luigi left for Argentina where he was once more employed painting portraits.

Return to Italy. His daughter Laura married and he and Olimpia abandoned the idea of moving to Rome.

Lucca. On 11 March, De Sena and Carlo Spicciani presented Mussolini with his portrait painted by De Servi.

Lucca. On 16 September, De Servi wrote a letter to the Giornale d’Italia which was published in the 20th September edition, in which he described himself as a “Liberal for about forty years and an assiduous and affectionate reader”. In the letter he attacked the editorial attitude to the government, said that he would not be reading the newspaper any more and ended by declaring his complete adherence to Fascist ideology.

Lucca. On 6 February, De Servi was unanimously appointed secretary to the newly constituted Fascist Union of Artists in Lucca.
Rome. De Servi had an individual exhibition of thirty-one works between 17 and 30 March in the foyer of the National Theatre, his first one-man show in Rome. King Vittorio Emanuele went to see it and signed the visitors’ book. The exhibition was organised by the art magazine Fiamma.

Lucca. 3-17 May. Individual exhibition of thirty-five works in three rooms of the Lucchese Society premises.
Viareggio. July and August. Individual exhibition in the Grand Hotel Royal.

Lucca. On 1 October, in the Cassa di Risparmio Bank, new rooms designed by architect Italico Baccelli were inaugurated and two large paintings by De Servi were installed.

Lucca. De Servi hung each of his new paintings in the windows of the Spicciani House of Art.

Genoa. On 25 September, as part of a celebration of great Ligurians, an exhibition of 19th-century painters in Liguria was opened in Palazzo Rosso. It was set up by the Organisation for the Army and Navy and curated by Orlando Grosso. De Servi was included with his Portrait of Anton Giulio Barrili.

Milan. On 13 April, an individual exhibition opened in the Gerì Gallery, 21, Via Fatebenefratelli.

Lucca. In September, for the Feast of the Holy Cross, De Servi organised an individual show in the public rooms of the Hotel Universo and donated a still life as a lottery prize, the proceeds of which were given to the war-wounded in hospital.

On 25 June, after a long illness, Luigi De Servi died in Lucca.

Taken from
Life of the Artist by Michela Bompani