Piero Leddi was born in San Sebastiano Curone, in the province of Alessandria, Piedmont, in 1930. From his father, who was a carpenter, and from other relatives who were also artisans, he learned some of the techniques involved in the processing of raw materials. He owed his relationship with the land and his knowledge of dairies, however, to his mother’s family, who were farmers. After moving to Tortona he took up painting, decisively influenced in this regard by the Tortonese Mario Patri and inspired also by the legacy of his fellow countryman Pellizza da Volpedo. In Milan from 1951, Leddi worked for a number of years as a graphic designer in the field of advertising, at the same time refining his own artistic means of expression and coming into contact with artists who were his contemporaries at the Brera such as Giuseppe Guerreschi, Tino Vaglieri, Floriano Bodini, Bepi Romagnoni, Ernesto Treccani, and with critics such as Mario De Micheli and Raffaele De Grada.
His first one-man shows, in 1953 at the Architecture Faculty in the Politecnico di Milano and then in 1958, in Tortona, were followed by around a hundred others. He also participated in one hundred and fifty or so group shows. From the outset there was at the heart of Leddi’s painting an encounter with the city: interiors of cars, the discussions of intellectuals, families in everyday urban settings. We also find Leddi concerned again and again to rethink the archaic agricultural world and its demise. The figure who comes to symbolise this irreversible separation is Fausto Coppi, the hero of a peasant epic and the protagonist of numerous works exhibited in, among other places, a show at the Galleria La Nuova Pesa in Rome, in 1966.
At the end of the 1960s, Leddi’s wide-ranging researches into the theme of Teste led to the acquisition of new formal devices, whereas in the course of the seventies an engagement with the great Lombard tradition enriched his painting with allegorical and metaphorical ideas, which may be discerned in the pictures concerned with the motif of plague. Associated with these latter are depictions of exoduses, such as Il Carro di Milano (1973-74), or works dedicated to the theme of the festival, up until the Festa sul Ticino (1978), which deals with the accident in Seveso. Urban landscapes also featured in the subsequent phase, in works depicting Sempione park, but a reconsideration of the relationship with history then finds expression in a vast cycle on the French Revolution, exhibited at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan on the occasion of the bicentenary and subsequently at the Italian Cultural Institute in Lyons and at the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg. This cycle includes canvases such as the Carro della Festa (1987) and the Mulino dell’Encyclopédie (1988). These works epitomise the original perspective adopted by Leddi in translating into the language of the present day the symbolic systems devised for the public celebrations of Jacobin Paris and the splendours of an Enlightenment culture engaged in the creation of new values.
In more recent years, while Leddi’s interest in the city has never faltered, as the show dedicated to Milan and mounted at the Museo della Permanente in 1995 proved, he has also undertaken a systematic and thorough revival of the theme of the body. He has been concerned to represent in constantly changing ways human anatomy, the inside-outside, and the man-nature relationship. In this quest a reappraisal of the teachings of the great masters of the past serves as an opportunity to interpret the present in various different idioms, tragic, sentimental and caricatural.
Alongside the huge array of drawings and of works on canvas, the artist was tireless in his commitment to engraving, a fact borne out by the catalogue Piero Leddi. Opera incisa 1956-2002, published in 2003. Piero Leddi died in Milan on 4 June 2016.