Il Bisonte was founded in 1959 as a print-workshop for graphic arts. After being located very briefly in V.le Milton, it found its first official premises in Via Ricasoli, near Piazza del Duomo in Florence. Its founder, Maria Luigia Guaita, had just returned from Scotland, where she had deepened her knowledge of etching techniques in the studio of a female painter and friend. Once back in Florence, she received support and co-operation from a group of intellectuals, among whom Giorgio Luti (Italian literature historian), Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti (art historian) and Enrico Vallecchi (editor). The architect Aristo Ciruzzi designed the logo of the printing-workshop, that is a bison about to attack surrounded by two semicircles, one red and the other black. Ms Guaita had chosen a bison as her logo for two reasons: first, it was the first image ever drawn by mankind in order to represent the outside world, as evinced by the engravings found in the Spanish caves of Altamira; second, the bison was the symbol of female strength among American Indian populations.
Rodolfo Magheri, a widely acknowledged painter and etcher, also started to work with Guaita, and this co-operation lasted throughout his life, until his death in 1967. He recovered some antique presses from the Military Geographic Institute and recruited two most skilled pressmen in order to start the printing activity. The first artists to be invited to Il Bisonte were the Italian ‘Informali’ Caramassi, Moreni, Scanavino, Giò Pomodoro. The success was not immediate. Only later, when Enrico Vallecchi brought to Il Bisonte the ‘classical’ artists of the so-called ‘generation of the 10’s’, who had all belonged to Futurism – that is, Ardengo Soffici, Gino Severini, Carlo Carrà, Alberto Magnelli – there was a good response from the public. Many artists – both Italian and non – accepted the invitation to work at Il Bisonte. In 1960 Picasso printed on the premises of Il Bisonte the only lithography that he ever made in Italy. In 1964 Ludovico Ragghianti and 50 Italian artists produced a folder In favour of the Spastic National Association. Maccari, Bardini, Mattioli, Faraoni and Annigoni are only few of the many Italian artists who have closely cooperated with Il Bisonte. Among non-Italians there are names such as Lipchitz, Chadwick, Calder, Sutherland and Wunderlich. The 4th of November 1966 was a turning-point in the history of Il Bisonte, the premises of which had just been moved to the old district of San Niccolò, where they are located still to this day. The premises were submersed by the Arno flood, Guaita saved herself by escaping through a window, and many works were badly damaged or even lost. Numerous artists offered their help in order to restore The activity of the printing house. Among them, Henry Moore realised famous etchings around the theme of the human figure. In 1972 Guaita managed to organise the first exhibition of Moore’s sculptures at the Forte Belvedere, and in that same period Il Bisonte hosted an exhibition of his graphic production.
In 1983 Il Bisonte became a non-profit Cultural Centre and – shortly afterwards – the school opened in the former stables of Palazzo Serristori. Every year the school – directed by professor Ceccotti – welcomes numerous students from all over the world.
In the 2005 the school and the gallery are unite in one institution: the foundation Il Bisonte per lo Studio della Grafica d’Arte.
Maria Luigia Guaita died on December 26, 2007. In 2009 Il Bisonte has celebrated its 50th anniversary. Its intense activity is divided between the Foundation, the Gallery, and the International School of Specialisation in Graphic Art. Our’s choice for the “next fifty years” is to focus the activity of Il Bisonte on pure etching and to reactivate the teaching and printing of traditional lithography on stone. Il Bisonte has the tradition of encouraging and keeping alive – by teaching – the historical engraving techniques, that is among the others, drypoint, burin, etching, aquatint, mezzotint.