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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nibbi, Gino (1896–1969)

by Desmond O'Grady

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Gino Nibbi (1896-1969), author, art critic and bookseller, was born on 29 April 1896 at Fermo, Italy, son of Pasquale Nibbi, cooper, and his wife Anna, née Spinelli. Raised at Porto San Giorgio, Gino qualified as an accountant in 1915. During World War I he served as a lieutenant in an Italian artillery regiment and was decorated for bravery; by the end of the war he had become a convinced pacifist. On 3 April 1922 at Porto San Giorgio he married Elvira Petrelli, a schoolteacher.

Of middle height, with upstanding black hair, an aquiline nose and dark, penetrating eyes, Nibbi read voraciously and had a retentive memory. He was attracted by the avant-garde, and, through his lifelong friend Osvaldo Licini, made contacts in the Paris art world. Emigrating to Melbourne in 1928, he set up the Leonardo Art Shop at 166 Little Collins Street and began importing foreign-language art books and quality prints of works by the Post-Impressionists. He influenced painters such as Arthur Boyd, Donald Friend, John Perceval and (Sir) Russell Drysdale who had previously only seen inferior reproductions.

Fascinated by the life and art of Paul Gauguin, Nibbi visited Tahiti in the early 1930s. He went to Italy for the publication of his book on Tahiti, Nelle Isole della Felicità (Milan, 1934), and his short stories of migrant life, Il Volto degli Emigranti (Florence, 1937). Meanwhile, his wife Elvira taught Italian at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and the Berlitz School of Languages. They later ran a course in Italian for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, for which Nibbi prepared the Newest Italian-English Reader (Melbourne, 1936). In 1938 he became a founding member of the Melbourne branch of the Contemporary Art Society of Australia. He was naturalized in February 1939.

When Nibbi's lease on the shop was not renewed and he was unable to find suitable alternative premises, he returned with his family to Italy in 1947 and opened a bookshop and art gallery, Ai Quattro Venti, in Rome. There, in 1952, he held an exhibition of (Sir) Sidney Nolan's and Albert Tucker's work. His shop was much frequented by Australians. After publishing Oracoli Sommessi (Florence, 1953), a series of reflections and impressions on a range of topics, he again returned to Melbourne. He visited Italy in 1957 to attend the 52nd Dante Alighieri congress, and worked briefly in Japan in 1961 as art critic for the Japan Times. From 1963 he and his wife lived in the hills near Rome.

Nibbi regularly contributed to Italian newspapers—Il Tempo, Il Resto del Carlino, Il Giornale d'Italia—and occasionally to the Melbourne Herald, and wrote on Australia and Australian artists in Italian journals. He published Cocktails d'Australia (Milan, 1965), another book of short stories set in Australia, and completed a biography of Amedeo Modigliani. He also compiled a glossary of words, phrases and expressions peculiar to the disappearing dialects of the Marche provinces of Macerata and Ascoli Piceno.

Respected as an art critic, Nibbi possessed 'a wonderful mixture of childlike innocence, humour, intellectual brilliance and dedication to the arts'. He did much to make Australia and Italy culturally closer. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died on 17 December 1969 in his home at Grottaferrata and was buried in the cemetery at Porto San Giorgio. A road from Porto San Giorgio to Fermo was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Antognini, Scrittori Marchigiani del Novecento (Ancona, Italy, 1971)
  • O. Licini, Errante, Erotico, Eretico (Milan, 1974)
  • R. Haese, Rebels and Precursors (Melb, 1981)
  • A. Kershaw, Heydays (Syd, 1991)
  • D. O'Grady, Correggio Jones and the Runaways (Melb, 1995)
  • D. Pupilli, Il Professore Catalini (Fermo, Italy, 1995)
  • Overland, no 111, June 1988
  • Herald (Melbourne), 26 Aug 1970.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Desmond O'Grady, 'Nibbi, Gino (1896–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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