Annigoni was born in Milan in 1910 but by the end of the 1920s was studying in Florence at the College of the Piarist Fathers. In 1927 he was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, where he studied painting under Felice Carena, sculpture under Giuseppe Graziosi and etching under Celestino Celestini. At the same time he took life classes run by the Florentine ‘Circolo degli Artisti’. In 1932 he was given his first solo show at the Bellini Gallery in the Palazzo Ferroni and the art critic of the Corriere della Sera began to write about him. He won the Trentacoste Prize in the same year.
The open opposition of Annigoni to the fascism of Mussolini led to his ostracism from the cultural establishment within Italy until the end of the Second World War. But conditions so changed from 1945 that he was able to produce some of his greatest and most characteristic works. In 1947, he founded the Modern Realist Painters’ Group with six other artists, including Gregorio Sciltian and the brothers, Antonio and Xavier Bueno, and together they signed a manifesto that came out in open opposition to abstract art and the various movements that had sprung up in Italy in these years. However, the group folded in 1949, and Annigoni was alone among its members to remain true both aesthetically and ethically to its opposition to abstraction.
Annigoni looked to England for a new market and in 1949 he had his first works accepted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. He was taken up enthusiastically by the London art world. In the 1950s he held shows at Wildenstein’s and Agnews and his fame was secured by a commission in 1955 to paint HM The Queen. The image travelled the world in print form, adorning embassy walls and government offices across the Commonwealth. More high profile commissions followed, Pope John XXIII, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, the Shah and Empress of Iran, Princess Margaret and various members of the extended British Royal Family.
An outspoken artist, Annigoni wrote essays challenging modern art that disregarded the basic ability to draw. He alienated critics, who claimed his art was too representational, discounting the unique dramatic signature the artist brought to Renaissance tradition.
The Italian Republic made him a Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana in 1975. In October 2010, the Italian Post Office issued a stamp commemorating the centennial of Pietro Annigoni's birth.