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Italian artist Roberto Ruspoli follows in the footsteps of Picasso, Matisse and Cocteau by reimagining the ancient art of the fresco

Roberto Ruspoli at a villa in Lecce, Italy

In 1950, Parisian socialite Françine Weisweiller invited Jean Cocteau to spend a week’s holiday in her house in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, on the French Riviera. Only few days after he arrived, Cocteau grew tired of the general idleness and asked permission to make a drawing above the living room fireplace. Inspired by the Mediterranean Sea, for the whole summer of that year the artist kept working on the villa’s interiors, drawing figures from Greek mythology directly on the walls. The famous villa tatouée [the tattooed villa] was born. 

From Pablo Picasso’s murals at Château de Castille in Provence, to Henri Matisse’s drawings on the walls of his studio near Nice, summertime dans le Midi has inspired many.  The work of Italian artist Roberto Ruspoli is informed by this French modernist tradition. Ruspoli’s signature works feature silhouettes of young men and androgynous figures inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome. With clean, graceful lines, he paints with pigments on wet plaster or directly onto walls and ceilings.

Salon Proust at Dourant
Salon Proust at Dourant
Salon Proust at Dourant

Born in Switzerland and raised in Rome, Ruspoli studied Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York before settling in Paris.  Two years ago, under the invitation of architect and designer Fabrizio Casiraghi, Ruspoli painted the ceiling of one of the rooms at the Parisian design event AD Intérieurs. The project led to a series of private commissions to decorate interiors in London, New York, Napa Valley and Sausalito in California, and Lecce in Southern Italy.   In Paris, he painted a fresco with nymphs for the Salon Proust in the historical Art Deco restaurant Drouant, famous for hosting the jury of the prestigious literary prize Gouncourt every year since 1914. 

“My primary source of inspiration is classical antiquity, but I’m also fascinated by the primigenial relationship between human kind and art, which originated on the walls of caves,” he says. Indeed, Ruspoli aims to a summary of classical subjects, mediated by a modern sensibility. Talking about his influences, he also mentions Florentine Mannerism – with the importance accorded to drawing – and the triad Cocteau-Matisse-Picasso. 

My primary source of inspiration is classical antiquity, but I’m also fascinated by the primigenial relationship between human kind and art, which originated on the walls of caves
Ceiling fresco at AD Intérieurs

“In drawing, nothing is better than the first attempt,” Picasso once remarked, teasing Matisse, who used to draw the same subjects over and over again. Like Cocteau, Ruspoli works with little or almost no preparatory studies. “The technique doesn’t allow for mistakes, nor second thoughts,” he explains. “When you work on a wall you have to deal with the context, and with a surface which is always multi-dimensional”. 

The artist has recently finished working on a commission in Cannes, and will soon start decorating an entire floor of the much-anticipated Soho House Paris, which took up an historic building near Pigalle that, fittingly, was once Cocteau’s childhood home. 

“I like the idea of living with art in the same way people did in classical Greece and in ancient Rome, in Pompei and Ercolano,” adds Ruspoli. “Art becomes part of your environment, generating a presence of soul in your home”.