“At night I dream of bronzes, gessos, I create beautiful things. I’m a self-taught man, but my maestros were Montale, Sbarbaro, Quasimodo. I drew from the Egyptians, the Greek and the Latins”
In 1907, while attending primary school in Genoa, he began training as an apprentice marble sculptor at the Rigacci and Callegari worshops. In 1909-1910 he attended evening classes at the Confederazione Operaia and then started to work in the studio of sculptor Giovanni Scanzi (1913-1914). In 1916 he took part in the annual exhibition of the Società Promotrice per le Belle Arti di Genova, where he displayed his works almost continuously until 1932. He was called to arms at the age of 18. In 1919-1920, he met poets, writers and artists in Genoa and attended the courses of the Ligustica Academy of Fine Arts, which he completed in 1922. In 1921 he participated in the I Naples Biennale and in 1922 in the XII Venice Biennale, where he returned until 1942 (he was invited from 1928, he won the Gran Premio per la Scultura in 1942 and he exhibited with a personal room in 1956). In 1927, he began visiting the most famous European museums, especially in Paris.
During the 1930s-1940s, his works were included in the most important Italian art group exhibitions abroad. He moved to Milan in 1932, where he obtained a professorship in Sculpture at the Brera Academy in 1934 and two years later he was nominated director (until 1944). From 1950 to 1960, in addition to many solo exhibitions, he was the author of works for the Monumental Cemetery of Milan, for the Church of Sant’Eugenio and for the Cittadella di Assisi. In 1961-1962, the monument dedicated to "Santa Caterina da Siena" was placed in Castel Sant'Angelo. In 1973-1974, the Sala Borgia of the Vatican Gallery was assigned to him, where 20 of his sacred works are permanently on display, and the Municipality of Milan assigned the desecrated Church of San Sisto al Carrobbio to him, which he restored and where he opened his Museo-Studio, now the Museo Civico Francesco Messina with over 100 works on display.
Among his most important solo exhibitions: Società Promotrice di Genova 1927; Galleria Milano, Milan 1929; personal room, II Quadriennale di Roma; Rome 1938; Turin 1938; Müller Gallery, Buenos Aires 1947; Villa Malpensata and Civic Museum, Lugano 1976; Puskin Museum, Moscow and Hermitage, St. Petersburg (40 works divided between the two museums, 1978); Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich (1979, where a room with his name was opened in 1981); Maison de l'UNESCO, Paris 1983; Kunsthistorische Museum and Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna 1984; Universe Gallery, Tokyo and Museum, Hakone 1986-1987; Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (donation of Messina to the museum, 1989); Duomo di Salò (1990-'91); Brescia (1990-'91); Fortezza di Sarzanello, Sarzana (1990-'91); Municipality of Turin and Società Promotrice di Belle Arti (celebratory exhibition, 1990); Braccio di Carlo Magno, Piazza San Pietro, Rome 1993; Centre Saint Benin, Aosta 1993. Postume: Castello Ursino and Piazza Federico di Svevia, Catania 1996-1999; "Francesco Messina. 100 anni", San Salvatore in Lauro, Rome 2000; Stazione Marittima and Palazzo Ducale, Genoa 2002; Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome 2003.
His group exhibitions are also of note: II Biennale di Roma 1925; "Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes", Paris 1925; "Mostra del Novecento Italiano", Milan 1926, 1929; "Barcelona International Exposition" 1929; "Corrente di vita giovanile", Palazzo della Permanente, Milan 1939; International Exposition, New York 1939; "III Sculpture International", Philadelphia 1949; Quadriennale di Roma 1958, 1965; "Bronzetto Italiano" (18 countries, 1965-1975); "Representation Abroad", Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C. 1986; Palazzo Ducale, Genoa 1992-1993.
His works are included in private collections, public spaces and famous museums across the globe, including: Staglieno Cemetery; Cities of Genoa, Chiavari (Cristoforo Colombo), La Spezia and Pavia; Modern Art Gallery, Turin; Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna; National Art Gallery, Rome; Church of Sestrière; Ospedale Maggiore di Niguarda, Milan; Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris; Palazzo RAI, Rome ("Cavallo morente"); Duomo di Milano (Pio XI); San Giovanni Rotondo, Gargano; Teatro alla Scala, Milan; St. Peter’s Basilica (Pio XII). Among the recognitions awarded to him: "Accademico di Merito", Ligustica Academy of Fine Arts, Genoa 1931; "Accademico d'Italia" 1943; Premio Ines Fila 1956; Premio Michelangelo, Florence 1963; "Cittadino Onorario", Milan 1975; "Accademico Honoris Causa", Fine Arts Academy of Russia 1988; Premio De Gasperi 1990; Premio alla Scultura, Presidency of the Council of Ministers 1994; Premio alla Cultura, Presidency of the Republic 1995. He discovered Versilia in 1922 thanks to Lorenzo Viani. He worked at the Cav. Giovanni Beretta Laboratory and Nicola Studios in Carrara and at the F.lli Galeotti, Quirino Gamba and Sergio Spadaccini Laboratories in Pietrasanta: here, alongside taking part in a number of shows, he also received the Premio Pietrasanta e la Versilia nel mondo in 1993 and he donated "Il Pugilatore", today placed in the square of the Padre Eugenio Barsanti Institute in 1997.
The photographs published in the TimeLine were taken from the website www.fondazionemessina.it