Giovanni Fattori

Giovanni Fattori

Giovanni Fattori was an Italian painter and graphic artists, a head of the “Scuola Macchiaioli” movement that emerged in Florence in 1850s.

Early years

Fattori was born on Septermber 6, 1825 in Livorno. Started his artistic education in the studio of a local artist Giuseppe Baldini. In 1846 – 1849 he attended classes of Giuseppe Bezzuoli the private school and later continued training under Bezzuoli in the Florentine Academy of Fine arts.

Giovanni interrupted his studies in the Academy in 1848 – 1849 for participation in the revolutional events of Risorgimento. His first major public appearance was with canvas on the subject of historical novel “Ildegonda” by Tomasso Grossi, popular in the years of Risorgimento. Interest to the historical subject was inspired by heritage of Domenico Morelli from Napoli, Giovanni acquainted in 1856. Domenico told him about International exhibition of 1855 in Paris, about pavilion of realism, organized by Gustave Courbet, about his travels to the eastern countries. Young artists highly praised his coloring that inherited traditions of the Neapolitan “Pozilippo school”.

In 1860s Fattori and some other Florentine painters (Silvestro Lega, Telemaco Signorini, Cristiano Banti, Odoardo Borrani and others) took part in the competition announced by the government of Tuscany, dedicated to the events of 1859. For them battle of Franco-Italian and Austrian armies at Solferino, Curtatone, Magenta, Palestro, San-Martino were a real national history. Fattori’s painting “Italian Camp after the Battle of Magenta” (1860) took the first prize; the second one was divided beteween Lega and Borrani.

Fattori and “Scuola Macchiaioli”

“Scuola Macchiaioli” (from Italian “macchia” – spot) was organised after that contest. The word “scuola” (from Italian “school”), so popular in Italy, where every region was defined by its own system of deep-routed deep traditions, in this case had another meaning, connected with a group of like-minded artists, united by common civic and aesthetical views. It united young painters from different provinces of the country, who chummed up in Florence – an important cultural center after the revolution of 1848 – 1849, and capital of Italy in 1865 – 1871. In 1861 “macchiaioli” had their first general exhibition in Casino dei Risorti. They had kept on displaying their works together up to the 1868, and after the artistic ways of the group’s members parted. Some of them stayed in Tuscany for the rest of their days, some of them moved to France in 1870s. 1860s were the decade of the highest unanimity among them.

“Scuola Macchiaioli” was analogic to the numerous groups that appeared in other European countries, trying to escape the patronage of official institutions in their activities. “Macchiaioli” rejected main principles of academic education – official themes of contest works on mythological or historical subjects, normativity of the Florentine Academy’s “Statute”.

Giovanni Fattori, who was held in respect among his fellow artists, played an important role in shaping up of the group’s program and its kulturtrager mission. The method of “macchia” substantiated not only the system of painting (plein air work, usage of color spots), but the ideological position of the authors. Their conception of “sincere” realism was romantic by the character, suggesting exploring life with through returning to the art of Quattrocento, without sensuality of religious feelings, but with humanistic perception of their epoch.

The painting method of “macchiaioli” was one of the earliest examples of close to impressionism painting with unmixed colors. It was used in Fattori’s scenes “French soldiers” (1859 – 1860), “Rest of the Cavalry unit” (1860) and “The Watch” (or “The White Wall”, ar. 1870). The master always made drafts both to the big (like “Battle at Custoza”, 1876 – 1878) and small genre scenes of historical war events from life.

His paintings “Livorno Water Carrier” (1865), “The Palmieri’s Bathing” (1866), “Silvestro Lega painting on the rocks” (1866 – 1867), “Diego Martelli in Castiglioncello” (1866 – 1870), “Bufline in Tombolo” (1865 – 1866) were truly innovative for the art of that period. These pieces remind of etudes with a special plasticity of color, freshness and spontaneity of the nature’s perception in all its richness. Depicting figures, small villages, small groves became a common motif in Fattori’s oeuvre – the artists strived for tangible depiction of chiaroscuro effects with a spot, the “unifying” power of color that would allow to eliminate distance between objects and landscape surrounding.

The mature period

In 1869 Giovanni Fattori became a professor of the Florentine Academy. In the following years he continued painting battle scenes and episodes from rural life (“Pause in the Maremma with farmers and ox-cart”, 1873 – 1875). His manner is marked by intensification of graphism and sentimental mood, typical for social verism. His pictures of a little world of the rural provinces evokes associations with its descriptions in the works of realist writers of Tuscany. Local views were always presented with a special warmth and lyricism in their novellas.

Apart from that, the artist created a number of portraits that have similarities with Bezzuoli’s works for their directness and truthfulness in representing images of close friends and relatives (“Cousin Argia”, 1861 and “Settimia Vannucci”, 1864). Numerous engravings belong to Giovanni’s authorship, mostly in the etching technique.
In 1872 Giovanni Fattori visited Rome for the first time. However, unlike his precursors he was didn’t search for the inspiration in the city’s ancient history and remained faithful to the principle of capturing contemporary life – under the impression of visiting Rome he created “Roman Carts”(1872 – 1873). In 1875 Fattori left for Paris. The journey left rather mixed feelings – despite getting acquainted with lots of masters of impressionism (among them Camille Pissarro and Edgar Degas), he was disappointed with innovations of French painters and art of Barbizon school was closer to him. So, Fattori remained an adherent of the “macchia” method.

Late period (1880s – 1890s)

In 1880s Fattori introduced a new motif into his painting – he was captivated with showing buttero (drovers of buuls) of Tuscan’s lowland – Maremma. He usually depicted them in multi-figural compositions, in various moments of the everyday life. Dark figures of buttero contrasted with the background of yellowish, adust valleys of Maremma – “arking of young bulls in Maremma” (1887), “Market in San Godenzo” (1886 – 1887).

Pieces of the later period were not so much concentrated on the atmosphere and mode of life of Italian peasantry and colorfulness of the Tuscan landscape with its poetry and truthfulness, as on the revealing the depth of human existence. The series of buttero’s portraits was done in vivid and diverse way (“The Sea-Wolf”, 1875 – 1880, “The head of the buttero”, 1881 – 1883), which witness Giovanni’s interest to the socially typical. One of the most impressive works of that fruitful period is his canvas “The dead horse – What now?” (1903). Now Fattori tried not only documenting features of the world around him but to unmask its imperfections.

In 1880s – 1890s Fattori actively worked in technique of etching and xylography, making a series of Florentine and Livorno views. They demonstrate a cityscape from the point of view of an absolute verist artist, who intently examine nature (etchings “Coach”, “The Old Market in Florence”).

In 1885, Fattori met his second muse – Marianna Bigazzi, a widowand married her in six years. In 1886 the Florentine Academy gave him the chair of Professor of the specialization courses. Among his students such outstanding names as Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Ettore Roesler-Franz, Ottone Rosai, Ardengo Soffici, Amadeo Modilgiani and others. His realistic traditions were elaborated in the art of “Scuola Labronica”, established in his native town of Livorno.

The artist received great recognition in later years and even won a gold medal at the Paris World’s Fair for his print “Oxen and Cart (Maremma)” in 1900. After the death of Marianna, at the age of 82, Giovanni married Fanny Martinelli (there’s her portrait of 1907), with whom he lived together only for a year, as she died in 1907. Fattori died on August 30, 1908.