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Born into a humble family of immigrants from Tuscany, Italy. he lived in Campinas until he was 10 years old, when his father, a master carpenter, moved with his wife and children to the state capital, São Paulo, where he hoped to find better working conditions. One year later, José and one of his sisters moved to Italy, to live under the care of an uncle and grandparents.
Arriving at the house of his uncle Casimiro, he started to study at the Salesian College in Massa-Carrara. But shortly thereafter, the country would be involved in World War I and Pancetti had to be moved to the countryside, home of his grandparents in the town of Pietrasanta.
There, he learned the craft of a carpenter in a small workshop. But he didn't like the routine of the job and thus went to work, always briefly, in some factories until the conflict ended.
Wishing to fix a better job for José, his uncle arranged for him to be a sailor in the Italian merchant navy, where he learned the seafaring profession. He boarded the "Maria Rosa" sailboat, which ran trips throughout the Mediterranean, especially between the ports of Genoa and Alexandria. But the fickleness of his character caused him to leave the ship and to go wandering the streets of Genoa, with serious problems of subsistence, until someone took him to the Brazilian consulate, which provided for his return to Brazil.
Back in Brazil
Thus, on February 12, 1920, he landed in Santos. To survive, he worked in different places and different crafts until, in 1921, he moved to São Paulo again, where a businessman, also of Italian origin, offered him a job as a painter of walls and posters, which seems to have been his first contact with painting.
Then, in 1922, Pancetti enlisted into the Brazilian Navy, where he was to remain for 24 years, until 1946.
The discovery of painting
Aboard the Navy ships, Pancetti was given the task of painting hulls, walls, etc. He did this with such a zeal that his fame spread throughout the Navy until an admiral created a cadre of experts in the profession and appointed Pancetti as its first teacher of painting. But being a wall painter became boring and upon the humble sailor dawned a desire to put into paper what his eyes saw. And so Pancetti began to draw and to paint postcards with landscapes, seascapes and romantic sceneries, still quite clumsy, but which already showed his considerable artistic potential.
During the São Paulo Constitutional Revolution of 1932, Pancetti watched and painted a scene depicting a warplane downed by machine guns of the cruiser "Rio Grande do Sul" on board of which he was. The painting was acquired and published by the weekly "Noite Ilustrada", and that how he was professionally started in the fine arts.
In 1933, while walking through the Campo de Santana in Rio de Janeiro, he observed a painter in his chores to capture the city's landscape, so rich in wonderful scenery to offer. The man seemed friendly and pleasant enough and this encouraged him to strike up a conversation by asking about the painting and confessing his desire to learn to paint. The artist was Giuseppe Gargaglione, who advised him to seek the Núcleo Bernardelli, a free painting school that operated in the building of the Rio de Janeiro School of Fine Arts. Pancetti accepted the suggestion and was admitted to the Núcleo, where his main advisor was painter Bruno Lechowski.
At Núcleo Bernardelli
Two years later, in 1935, Pancetti married Anita Caruso, with whom he had two children.
His recognition as a painter began in 1933, with a participation at the Salão Nacional de Belas Artes (National Fine Arts Exhibition). He was invited again in 1934, 1936, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1947 and 1948. In 1941 he was awarded one of the prizes, which gave out an educational trip to Europe.
His first solo exhibition took place 10 years later, only, in 1945, featuring more than 70 of his paintings. His first international exhibition took place in 1950 at the Venice Biennale. The following year, he was accepted at the first International Art Biennial of Art São Paulo, having participated also in the third biennial (1955).
Unfortunately, Pancetti suffered from tuberculosis. He spent some time in the spa cities of Campos do Jordão and São João del Rei, seeking a rest cure. He died in 1958 in the Naval Hospital of Rio de Janeiro and was buried in the São João Batista cemetery.
Pancetti specialized in painting mostly seascape ("marinhas", in Portuguese) and is notable for that, but he also liked to paint still life, landscape, figure and portrait painting. While living, Pancetti enjoyed a relatively late recognition. His production was not very prolific, so his paintings are rare and in the hands mostly of private collectors. After his death, his fame grew very much, and his paintings are highly valued and command one of the best selling prices among Brazilian modernist painters, nowadays.
"Certa vez, não sei como, tive vontade de pintar aquilo que meus olhos viram na louca carreira do mar...".
Once upon a time, I don't know why, I had a wish to paint everything that my eyes saw in the crazy seafaring career.
- LEITE, José Roberto Teixeira. Dicionário Crítico da Pintura no Brasil : Rio de Janeiro, Artlivre, 1988.
- GULLAR, Ferreira e outros. 150 Anos de Pintura Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro, Colorama, 1989.
- LIMA, Medeiros. Pancetti : Rio de Janeiro, Ministério da Educação e Cultura/Serviço de Documentação, 1960.