In the early years of the nineteenth century, when Versilia was approaching the period of the “belle époque” (the equivalent of ‘Modernism’ in Italy), Viareggio was conquered by the Liberty style. We were around 1905.
At the beginning only slight signs of this new artistic style were glimpsed, which later became a real local taste, as it was a sort of pleasant mixture of Arab and Nordic artistic influences. Many of the buildings built in this style, in fact, date back to this same period. We find some examples in Villa Bramanti, Villa Nistri (called the ‘Mosque’) and in the numerous floral and neo-Gothic villas present throughout the area.
After the fire occurred on October 17, 1917, which destroyed all the buildings built of wood (belonging to the early Liberty period), there was an inversion of course, which gave birth to a new interest in the Art Deco. It is an art characterized by the use of many ceramic decorations, an innovation that distinguished all the architecture of the 1920s. In Versilia there are many examples of this style, including Villa Argentina or the small Villa Arrighi.
DIFFUSION OF THE LIBERTY
Since 1900, the first great Tuscan artists used to come to Versilia on holiday, to enjoy its beaches, the cool of its pine forests and the sea breeze. It was the ideal place to regenerate and find the right inspiration for new masterpieces. In fact, there are several architectural works, rich in spiers, domes and small towers, decorated with floral subjects typical of the period.
With the arrival of the lords and the bourgeoisie, fleeing from the warm centers of Florence, Lucca and Siena, Viareggio took the first bathing establishments in the typical Art Nouveau style, and all this worldly pleasure contributed to increase the value of artists, who they served the strength of local artisans to complete their works of art.
The Grand Caffè Margherita, the Balena bathhouse, the Caffè Concerto Eden and various other buildings are all decorated with enamels, lacquers and ceramics, typical of the 20s and 30s.
Galileo Chini (painter), who had lived in Bangkok and founded the company ‘Arte della Ceramica’, made an important contribution, adding an oriental touch to the halls and walls of the already luxurious Viareggio buildings. Today, these buildings have been transformed into expensive hotels, which are managed in such a way as to leave many of their original artistic details intact. Among these we remember the holiday home of Galileo Chini, in Lido di Camaiore, which preserves, intact, the original paintings and frescoes of the time, in a museum gallery dedicated to the painter.
The year 1924 marked a new and decisive phase for the urban connotation of Viareggio; in particular, it was thought of a project aimed at increasing the structures used for beach tourism in the city. The project consisted of the demolition of all the wooden bathing establishments, which had to be replaced by masonry structures (the only remaining wooden house is the “Martini chalet”).
This extravagant art began to be supplanted, around 1928, by the artistic tastes that characterized the period of rationalism and fascism in Italy.