Early works of

Valeria Costa 


"Valeria's first steps in the art field commenced in the thirties, in dialogue with the Roman painting of the time. A painting called Portrait of Carla, dated 1938, and another, Untitled, perhaps a little later, gracefully realized with fresco technique according to the dictates of those years, revealed that she was already an experienced artist. The paintings were both, close up, looming towards the beholder. Astonished, the fixed and absent eyes of the canvas, the view from which they lookout, the landscape that opens to the left, surmounted by the enigmatic lanyard which perhaps, but only perhaps, holds the shutter high allows entry into the darkroom of the little light, everything says of a widespread devotion to the museum, passed to the filter of Dechirico's declining metaphysics "

Valeria Costa

Portrait of Carla, 1938

oil on canvas, 37x45cm


The photo, preserved in the photo album n. 29 (Quadrennial Historical Archive) relating to the III Quadrennial, was taken during the photographic campaign created during the exhibition, which was held in Rome in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni from February 5 to July 22, 1939


"she had attended the Art School, Valeria, and followed the liberal courses of the School of Nude; the varicolored, lush Roman painting of the fourth decade unfolded before her eyes, not yet troubled by the compelling dictates of the regime. But together with the coming of the adult age during one of the last years of the Thirties, or one of the first of the following decade, a more particular style emerged: the drawn meticulosity grew, and so did the harsh pregnancy of a sign that becomes more excavated, sculptural, cutting every day. The dates at the bottom of Costa's paintings are missing, now as then almost always, so that we cannot be sure of the evolution of her style, which will in any case often be rich in revivals ."  

(in Costa's works) the images looked beaten by violent, rough, pitiless lights like those of the proscenium, and they came out with a singular feeling of 'truer than truth', releasing in a sort of crude hyperrealism. 

These first works appeared like a crystal clear and sometimes ironic paraphrase of reality charged with additional drama and revealing a premature expressionist inclination, like in the way of the painter Antonio Donghi. This is a stylistic code that will remain durable over time in Valeria; above all, the drawings will refer to this trend in the coming years. (...)" 

..She experienced painting in a way that was both estranged and total, casual and obsessive: bringing the fatigue above her, savoring the joys within her, making it every day not only secretly - without therefore setting the aim of a more or less official - but also separately from the contiguous and 'normal rhythms of existence'


Valeria Costa

Little girl sitting on a stool  mid '40s

oil, 70x90cm 

Valeria Costa

Portrait of Orazio, 

mid '40s

oil on canvas, 60x95cm 


But let's go back now to the years close to the war... 


The paintings Portrait of Orazio, the Self-portrait, and most of all, the Seated Child are truly one step away from the German Neue Sachlichkeit But let's go back now to the years close to the war. The paintings Portrait of Horace, the Self-portrait, and most of all, the Seated Child are truly one step away from the German Neue Sachlichkeit with an addition, of mystery and trepidation that made them comparable to some of the coeval portraits of Leonor Fini like Study for a face, for example, of 1940 or the Romantic Portrait of 1942, which was preserved in a collection in Rome. At that time, however, Leonor Fini was far from Italy, wandering between Europe and America, and with all probability, Costa didn't know her work.

The post-war years

At that time, she has already discovered what will remain her prevailing expressive key, that fundamental propensity of the soul, and the hand, which will accompany her over time, representing the fundamentals of her own pictorial experience, which is the propensity to scrutinize the appearance of reality with a merciless and lucid eye, having laid the veils of any consoling sentimentality; with the hope of discovering, inside and behind that appearance, a deeper and more essential link, an irreducible group of truth.

Over time, her inclination to realism will be torn apart and questioned, il will dominate, or more serenely disposed to live with what it looks and sees around. Sometimes it will be resulting in an almost expressionist approach, sometimes discovering its tensions to the fantastic and surreal excavation, sometimes willing to simply became objective, up to almost aseptic representative quiet. But il will never betray itself, and the rooted reasons of the thought that generated it


Valeria Costa

Portrait of Anna with Zozo, 1949 circa. oil on canvas, Dimensions: 43x55cm 

"Some canvases dating back to the 1950s and early 1960s confirm his ancient attention to the German New Objectivity" 


... We can mention among others: Streap-tease, People dancing, Exit from the theater. All these paintings contemplate upon that bourgeois world, satisfied and satisfied with itself, which had been the object of the severely exacerbated critic of Grosz, Dix, Shad, Beckmann, their historical companions


Costa consciously approaches that world, knowing that, a long time has passed since the artists' anger was launched against it. So, while her investigating and engraved signs unveil inebriation, abandonments, and tired hugs, while a bruised and lit light reveals obtuse vulgarities and small lasciviousness, Valeria looks at that human assembly with detached coldness, without sympathy, certainly, without participation, but also without the animosity and the extreme repulsion that had been of the old, now too distant, German masters.


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The texts in this section are taken from the critical essay of Fabrizio D'Amico published in the book "Valeria Costa. Woman, painter" (1989)

Francesco D'amico was Professor of Contemporary Art History at the University of Pisa. He was a member of the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, consultant of the Accardi Sanfilippo Archive in Rome and curator, since 1976, of the contemporary art column de La Repubblica.

Read the ful text in Italian