Giuseppe Santomaso was born in Venice in 1907, son of a master goldsmith and gemstone merchant. He began to devote himself to painting very young, participating for the first time in 1926 in a group show at Bevilacqua La Masa, where he returned to exhibit in the following years. In 1934 he made his debut at the Venice Biennale, where he returned in 1935 to the Mostra dei Quarant'anni and later in numerous editions. The trips to Holland and Paris in 1937 lead to a turning point and the abandonment of a language related to post-Impressionism.
In 1939, when he began the cycle of frescoes for the headquarters of the University of Padua completed in 1941, he held his first solo show in Paris at the Galerie Rive Gauche and participated in the second exhibition of the “Corrente” movement at Galleria Grande in Milan. In 1940 he held his first one-man show in Italy at the Galleria Genova in Genua; on that occasion he met the collector Alberto Della Ragione, who became his admirer. In 1942 he held a solo exhibition at Galleria della Spiga in Milan and illustrated with twenty-seven drawings the collection of poems Grand air by Paul Eluard.
In 1946 he met Peggy Guggenheim in Venice, also befriending Achille Cavellini. His participation in the “Nuova Secessione artistica italiana”, then “Fronte nuovo delle arti”, included him in a circuit of exhibitions including the Venice Biennale of 1948, where he returned to exhibit repeatedly later.
In 1949 he was included in the exhibition curated by James Thrall Soby and Alfred H. Barr Jr., Twentieth-Century Italian Art, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as taking part, together with the other members of the “Fronte nuovo delle arti”, in exhibitions of Italian art in Vienna, Munich, Mannheim, Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin. In 1951 he took part to the first Biennale in São Paulo, obtained a prize-purchase at the “I Premio di pittura Esso”, and collaborated in the decoration of the Palazzo Antenore in Padua.
The 1950s are certainly crucial to his artistic career. In 1952, on show together with the “Gruppo degli Otto” at the Venice Biennale, he received awards at the exhibitions in La Spezia and Gallarate. He exhibited at the Crane Gallery in Manchester and at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. In 1953, awarded for painting at the II Biennale in São Paulo, Brazil, his painting L’ora delle cicale (1953) was purchased by the Museum of Rio de Janeiro. Also in 1953 he received further awards in national exhibitions in Trieste and Messina; he held a solo exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in London, invited by Herbert Read. In 1954 he began teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, which continued until 1974. Among the many exhibitions that mark 1955 are Documenta in Kassel (where he would return in 1959 and 1964), Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, The International Exhibition of Graphics in Ljubljana, the exhibition of Italian art travelling to Madrid, Barcelona and America.
In 1957 the contract proposed by the Grace Borgenicht Gallery in New York, where he held his first overseas solo show, presented in the catalogue by Lionello Venturi, offered to Santomaso the opportunity to expand his contacts to the context of the American collectors. Other solo exhibitions would follow in the same American gallery in 1959, 1962, 1965, 1968, 1983. In 1958 he participated at the Guggenheim International Award in New York, and Peggy Guggenheim purchased the painting Vita segreta (1957), nowadays in the collection in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. From the long stays spent in Poland and Spain, abstract works reworked in an expressionist key were born, then exhibited in the solo show in Rome at the Galleria Pogliani. Also in 1959 Apollonio published a monographic essay on his painting.
In 1960 he held an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which acquired his painting Incendio a Santa Marta del Mare (1960), and at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and began his collaboration with Franz Larese 's Galerie Im-Erker in St. Gallen, a meeting place for philosophers, critics, artists such as Max Bill, Ionesco, Mirò, Motherwell, Poliakoff, Tapies. After his presence in numerous international exhibitions, in 1965 he had great anthological exhibition in Hamburg, Berlin and Dortmund. In 1966 he took lectures in painting and workshops at the Fort Wayne Fine Arts Foundation in Fort Wayne, and in 1967 he took part at in the Tokyo Biennale. Among the many international graphic exhibitions, we point out those of 1972, when it was awarded at the International Biennial in Krakow and at the 7th Tokyo Biennale. In 1975 the artist's general catalogue was published by Luisa Alfieri, with essays by Nello Ponente, Werner Haftmann, Pierre Francastel and Herbert Read. In 1976 he took up his home in Paris, where he stayed alternately for many years. In 1982 he held a great anthological show at the Museo Correr in Venice. Until 1990, when he died in Venice, he continued an intense exhibition activity.