Giuseppe Ricci Oddi (1868-1937) was born to an aristocrat family from Piacenza. After spending his youth in Rome, he moved back to his hometown, where he started collecting contemporary works of art. At first, this activity was just intended to adorn his family palace, but from the 1910s onwards it became a real passion and an all-embracing experience, to which Ricci Oddi fully devoted himself.
He began to attend art galleries and ateliers, sometimes making friends with artists such as Medardo Rosso or Francesco Paolo Michetti. He visited contemporary exhibits — in particular the Venice Biennale — and gathered a team of reliable advisers and experts to help him with his artistic purchases. He was quite conservative in his preferences — he did not appreciate Avant-Gard and always remained faithful to figurative language. Landscapes were among his favorite subjects. In this field, he particularly appreciated Antonio Fontanesi, whose paintings form a conspicuous group in his collection.
Although his collection was focused on contemporary Italian art, Giuseppe Ricci Oddi paid attention to the international scene as well.
Gustav Klimt's Portrait of a Lady, painted around 1917 and bought in 1925, is by the far the most important work by a non-Italian artist to enrich the collection. But the presence of painters such as Carl Larsson, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Émile-René Ménard, and Frank Brangwyn gives ample proof of the sophisticated taste of Ricci Oddi as an art collector. The main purpose of the Ricci Oddi collection was to document the development of modern Italian art from Romanticism to the 1920s through top-notch works, which at times also exemplified different regional trends. By the 1920s, the artists represented in the Ricci Oddi's collection had developed into an impressive list, including Tranquillo Cremona, Silvestro Lega, Antonio Mancini, Medardo Rosso, Francesco Paolo Michetti, Gaetano Previati, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Antonio Morbelli, and Giovanni Boldini, whereas the new century art is represented by the likes of Felice Carena, Massimo Campigli, Umberto Boccioni, Felice Casorati, Filippo De Pisis, Achille Funi, and Carlo Carrà, among others.
The next step for Giuseppe Ricci Oddi was to transform his own private collection into a public Gallery to be donated to his home city.
To this purpose, he reached an agreement with the municipality of Piacenza, which granted him free use of the strategically central location where the new gallery was to be built in place of the crumbling ruins of the San Siro monastery. Giuseppe Ricci Oddi entrusted his friend, the architect Guilio Ulisse Arata, with the project of the new building, whose costs he totally covered. The Ricci Oddi Gallery opened to public on 11th October 1931. Since then, Ricci Oddi's beautiful art collection has been displayed in Arata impressive building, expressly conceived to host and enhance it with its almost metaphysical elegance.