Antonio Berni


Antonio Berni was a neo-figurative painter and engraver of Argentine origin, for whom the people , the neighborhood and the anecdotes of the street that occurred every day, became plastic images that had to be represented; these people would be the protagonists of his works, inscribed in a painting of observation and social criticism.


Personal information

  • When was he born:  05/14/1905
  • Where he was born:  Rosario, Argentina
  • When he died:  10/13/1981
  • Where he died:  Buenos Aires, Argentina

Who was Antonio Berni?

Antonio Berni was a famous and renowned painter , drawing teacher and engraver of Argentine origin. He specialized in the creation of stained glass windows , engravings , surreal paintings and realism, focused on the problems of society.


Biography of Antonio Berni

He was born in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina in 1905. He was the youngest of three siblings, children of Italian immigrants. His father, a tailor from a town near the Swiss border, died when the future painter was only 14 years old, and the family had to move to a small farm owned by his grandparents by his mother. He began studying drawing at the Academia de Arte del Centro Catalá and worked in vitraux workshops , where he learned to make stained glass. He held his debut exhibition of his drawings at a lottery agency, and soon after, in 1920, he displayed his rather impressionistic paintings at an exhibition that was a great commercial success.


Antonio Berni had his first exhibition when he was a teenager and received a scholarship to study painting in Europe in 1925. After visiting Madrid he settled in Paris , where he studied with the painters André Lhote and Othon Friesz . He received a second scholarship in 1927 that allowed him to come into contact with the surrealist painters . During his time in France , he explored surrealism , revolutionary politics, and the psychoanalytic writings of Sigmund Freud. He began to produce paintings and collages that reflected the influence of surrealism andGiorgio de Chirico in particular.

Berni returned to Argentina in 1930. In 1933, he established a leftist group called Nuevo Realismo and began to prefer social realism.  That same year he collaborated on a mural with visiting Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros . However, unlike the muralists in Mexico , Berni had few opportunities to paint murals, so he used huge canvases the size of a mural.

He died in Buenos Aires on October 13, 1981. On November 17, the Monument to Martín Fierro was inaugurated in San Martín, in the Province of Buenos Aires , in which he worked and could not finish.


The characteristics that make Antonio Berni one of the best painters in the world are:

  • He gave importance to the social problems that existed in Argentina.
  • His works have a critical sense against society , ideological and political .
  • He also worked with popular themes of the town.
  • It showed typical characteristics of Argentine society .
  • It showed how childhood was exploited in Latin America .
  • Many of his works were done in collage.
  • His works also expressed the poverty of the peoples.


The main technique that Berni used was collage , he used it to transform his images into surfaces full of elements such as cans, plastics, iron, wood, fabrics, shoes, toys, papers, etc. His paintings and characters were built with the same materials he found. For him, painting the oil is not enough to achieve express their criticism against the consumer society.

He also used traditional realism to give his stories elements of the environment, and muralism, for him, was the only way to make a proletarian art.


Among the main recognitions of Antonio Berni we can mention:

  • “Figura” was his first prize at the XXX National Salon, in Buenos Aires, 1940.
  • “Lily”, awarded him the Grand Acquisition Prize at the XXXIII Salón Nacional in Buenos Aires, 1943, which was the highest award of the time.
  • He participated in the Venice Biennale where he won the Prize for Engraving in 1960.

Works by Antonio Berni

Antonio Berni continued to produce realistic- style works until the late 1950s, when he began a series of collages that focused on the everyday life of a fictional boy from the slums of Buenos Aires whom he named Juanito Laguna . It showed the boy in his best clothes, with a sack on his back as he climbed through the garbage of his neighborhood. He included a series of objects and materials that he himself collected in the slums.

In the early 1960s, the fictional prostitute and seamstress Ramona Montiel became the major subject among a large series of works made by the author. He also produced several copies focused on these characters.

Public Demonstration , a work he made in 1934, which captures the despair suffered by the working classes living in Argentina. The anguished faces of men, women and that of a child complement the image; and that of a protester holding a sign that says ” bread and work .”

The siesta and his dream , a work done in 1932, is a cryptic image in which a closed villa and an empty car are looking out to sea, from which a large industrial tower and a stone structure of fantastic shapes emerge .

Unemployed and Manifestation , this work shows how workers and families ask for food and work. In these people’s eyes only anxiety is shown . This painting conveys unity and strength and the faces of the workers reflect their weariness from exploitation. It is a work that shows the horrible reality that was lived, but also the hope.

Quotes by Antonio Berni

Some of the best known phrases of Antonio Berni are:

  • An artist must live with open eyes . But never, no matter how pressing reality, should you abandon art.
  • Art is not alien to the entire experience of man’s life . Being an artist is not, as many believe, to be pigeonholed in a specific abstract speculation, outside the natural world that surrounds us.
  • The art and morality , the form and essence , at times of high development, take independent paths.
  • To achieve true creation we must try, in general terms, to assimilate all the artistic events experienced by universal culture.

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