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He signed up for a course in musical composition at the Milan Conservatory, completed it without difficulty, and decided that the time had come to begin his career as a serious composer.
Since he believed Paris was the only place for an aspiring musician, the early 1930s found him hard at work in a ninth-floor walk-up studio in Montmartre writing avant-garde music.
It already has spanned more than six decades, produced a considerable number of works of genuine art-historical importance, and enriched numerous museum, corporate, and private collections with paintings of outstanding character and quality.
Donati’s hard work, coupled with his rare talent and fertile imagination, have played a much greater role in his success than timing—crucial as the latter may have been in the initial stage of his career.
Music, in fact, continued to hold a much greater fascination for him than the visual arts, even after he had become a young adult.
Family considerations, however, prevented him from pursuing it as a career—at least until after he had acquired a respectable academic degree.
It was at the former that he first saw the work of the Surrealists whose ranks he would join a few years later.
(He was not able, however, to meet any of them in person.) And it was at the latter that he studied the great art of the past and present. The Musee de l’Homme on the Place du Trocadero exhibited a rich assortment of anthropological odds and ends, including a number of Native American artifacts.
As for young Enrico himself, while he drew a little and says he was “quite good” at it, his main interest as a boy was in playing the piano and in composing music.
His Surrealist period, after all, lasted barely eight years. And yet his career has never faltered, never surrendered to fashion or sensationalism, and never dwindled into mere commercialism. Breton proclaimed him a member of the group after recognizing him as a kindred spirit, not because Donati had asked to join.
Throughout, Donati has remained uncompromisingly independent. And once he was a member, he followed his own path—even to the extent of deviating dramatically at times from what was expected of a Surrealist.
These struck such a profoundly sympathetic chord in Donati that he decided to travel to the American Southwest in order to become more familiar with the culture that had produced them.
He left Paris in 1934 with Claire Javal, whom he had just married, and with the intention of returning with as many Native American artifacts as he could obtain.
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Impressed by Donati’s paintings, Surrealism’s founder and pontifical grand master pronounced him a Surrealist on the spot and mustered him, as a younger peer, into the august company of such luminaries as Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Yves Tanguy.