Permanente was founded in 1883 after the union of two previous societies: the Società per le Belle Arti and the Società per l’Esposizione Permanente di Belle Arti in Milano. The first institution was born in 1844 as encouraging society for the fine arts pursuant to the already existing societies in Italy and Europe. It is made up of shareholders who pay an annual amount with the aim of buying the most meritorious art works at the annual exhibition of Belle Arti in Brera and then of drawing lots them among the associates.
In this way it contributes to the birth and the development of prestigious civic and national art collections.
The second society was founded in December 1869 in via Palermo and in 1871 found its seat under the Senate building’s porticos, where important exhibitions of Italian artists were organized and where the society supports the sale of the art works in a national and international market.
At the end of the successful Esposizione Nazionale di Belle Arti, which took place in the Senate building in 1881 in the ambit of the Italian industrial Exhibition in Milan, the Società per l’Esposizione Permanente, which was the main organizer of the event, suggested to Società per le Belle Arti the union of the two organizations in a single great cultural institution. For this reason, Società per le Belle Arti ed Esposizione Permanente was founded on 10th June 1883, whose purely cultural and no profit character was approved by King Umberto I, who made the partnership of the two societies become an artificial person on 22nd September 1884 thank the Royal Legislative Decree. Two years later the Permanente’s building, which was built by the architect Luca Beltrami in via Turati (in that moment: via Principe Umberto), was inaugurated with a great contemporary art exhibition on 25th April 1886. It was suitably designed to host art exhibitions, concerts and conferences. The building provided to Milan a unique cultural place and soon it became the favorite meeting place for artists, merchants, cultured men, many of whom were Permanente’s associates. The art market moved from via Brera to via Principe Umberto, forcing the Academy to revise its expositive activity. The two institutions began an important partnership that led to the birth of Biennali di Brera at Permanente in 1908 and to the move of some schools of the Academy to the areas designed by Beltrami.
In the first period of its activity, the Permanente organized various exhibitions, common and individual, of the main artists of the period, from the divisionists to the futurists and to the group of the twentieth century. By the outbreak of the II World War and after the turbulent relationship with the Fascist Syndicate of Fine Arts, which tried to steal the independence from the organization through imposition against the statute, the expositive activity became less frequent until its interruption in 1943, year in which the building was seriously damaged by bombardments; in 1950 started the reconstruction, which was based on the Achille Castiglioni and Luigi Fratino’s project, and it was finished in 1953. The revival of the organization was celebrated in the same year with the great exhibition ‘The woman in the art from Hayez to Modigliani’. Permanente resumed its profitable expositive activity paying attention on the one hand to the critical analysis and to the philological reconstruction of culturally significant past periods and the experiences of each main person, and on the other to the contemporary art, to which Società per le Belle Arti dedicated various periodical exhibitions, common or thematic, individual of living artists or dead one, exchanges with important foreign realities and investigations of the birth and the developments of the trends closest to us.
We remember the series of the historical exhibitions, started in 1966 with the Scapigliatura’s exhibition, suit followed by Divisionism, Liberty in Italy, Art and sociality in Italy from realism to symbolism, Il Novecento, accompanied by monographic exhibitions dedicated to some of the main Italian and international artists of the 19th and the 20th centuries, like Daniele Ranzoni, Medardo Rosso, Giovanni Segantini, Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, Giovanni Boldini, Massimo Campigli, Arturo Martini, James Ensor, Jean Arp, Frida Kahlo, Le Courbusier, Graham Sutherland. Furthermore, after the II World War the organization resumed organizing the Biennali di Brera with the denomination of Biennale Nazionale d’Arte Città di Milano.. Le Biennali, which arrived to the 32nd edition in December 1993, guaranteed for a long period the donation of some historical prizes like Fornara’s prize and the Feltrinelli’s prize for painting, the Bagutta – Orio Vergani’s prize for figurative arts and other that contribute to the birth of Permanente’s art collection and to the development of highly esteemed collections like the Lombard section of the Modern art Gallery in Milan (linked Sallustio Fornara).