Giovanni Fattori was born in Livorno on 6 September 1825. He moved to Florence in 1846 and the following year became a pupil of Giuseppe Bezzuoli. Early in 1853 he began to frequent the Caffè Michelangelo a gathering place of several artists – Odoardo Borrani, Vito d’Ancona and Telemaco Signorini – who established the Macchiaioli group around 1855. Fattori’s first, high quality painting, in brilliant whites and browns was the Self-Portrait that he did in 1854. Between 1855 and 1857 he participated in the various editions of the Promotrice Fiorentina with paintings of historic-literary themes. In 1859 he entered the Ricasoli competition and won it with a sketch, The Italian Camp After the Battle of Magenta, and went on to complete the painting in 1862. In 1861 he painted I Fidanzati (The Betrothed) and Cousin Argia. He moved back to Livorno to help his wife who was suffering from consumption, and there he painted three large canvases: Acquaiole Livornesi, Le Macchiaiole and CostumiLivornesi. In 1867 after his wife died he went to stay with Diego Martelli at Castiglioncello where he painted portraits of his host and his wife. In 1869 he was appointed to a professorship at the Accademia in Florence. A few years later he made his first trip to Rome where he did a few paintings such as Roman Carts. The year 1875 found him in Paris with some of his pupils; upon his return he was a guest of the Gioli family at Fauglia where painted sweet and charming female portraits. In 1880 he painted Lo Scoppio del Cassone [The Exploding Wagon] and Lo Staffato [The Runaway Horse]. It was at that time that he decided to paint country subjects; the decision that led him to stay at the Marsigliana estate of prince Tommaso Corsini in 1885. It was there that he found the inspiration for some paintings such as La marca dei puledri [Branding the Colts] and The Sheep Jump both of which were shown in Venice in 1887. At the end of the decade he painted the Portrait of His Stepdaughter as well as portrait of his second wife. In 1905 he married for the third time and painted a portrait of his new wife, Fanny Martelli. He worked intensely far into old age as we can see from the many paintings he exhibited at shows in Italy and abroad. Giovanni Fattori died in Florence on 20 August 1908 and named his pupil Giovanni Malesci as his sole heir.
Mary Stuart at Crookstone
Giovanni Fattori arrived in Florence in 1846 and made his debut with paintings of historical scenes influenced by the tastes of his teacher at the Accademia, Giuseppe Bezzuoli. He painted scenes from Medieval or Renaissance history drawn primarily from romantic writers such as Scott, Manzoni, D’Azeglio, Grossi or Cantù. Another Tuscan painter, Enrico Pollastrini also worked along Bezzuoli’s lines. His blend of romantic elements and purist shapes, with a keen eye for the primitives’ tradition also influenced this early phase of Fattori’s career. In his arrangement of this painting of Mary Stuart based on Scott, Fattori showed that he had assimilated the experiences of both artists. It is believed that he did the painting between 1858 and 1859 and that he added the date of 1861 in order to show the painting as “new” at the I Esposizione Nazionale di Belle Arti that was held in Florence that year.
French Troops in ‘59
This painting is one of a series of panels, done with unequalled fluidity; it marks Fattori’s new awareness of a new and more radical view of reality. It portrays a regiment of French soldiers under the command of Jerome Napoleon, cousin of the Emperor Napoleon III that briefly camped in the Cascine Park in Florence to monitor the political situation at the outbreak of the second war of independence and the fall of the grand ducal government. This group of works is considered experimental because it marks the transition from portrayals of ancient to contemporary history that Fattori translated with uncommon veracity.
Giovanni Fattori, who had married Settimia Giovannetti in 1860, returned to his native Livorno so that his young, consumptive wife could find some relief from the mild, seaside climate. The Roman artist, Nino Costa was also with the young couple: in Florence he had convinced Fattori to abandon paintings of ancient history in favor of the current in order to work sul motivo, on the topic, as it were. His friend’s advice had an immediate effect in the series of family portraits that he painted in Livorno. The painting of Cousin Argia is the best of this group. The traditional three-quarter pose is flanked by a different “setting” of the face that reveals imperceptible feelings which characterize the affectionate and intimate nature of the portrait.
Cavalry Charge at Montebello
His meeting with the Roman painter, Nino Costa, was a determining factor in Fattori’s artistic maturation. During long walks in the country Costa explained his artistic vision, his interest in a synthetic and realistic presentation of the landscape – and these were true “lessons” for the Tuscan painter. It was Costa who, one day as he observed Fattori working in his studio on a large composition of Medicean history, urged him to turn to contemporary reality. This led to the painting of the Cavalry Charge at Montebello; Fattori over-painted the Florentine scene, turned the canvas and painted this extraordinary battle scene. His paintings of the Risorgimento campaigns – preceded by countless life studies – became memorable because they revealed the finest of being an artist and of being a Garibaldian.
Nino Costa’s advice also had a significant effect on the horizontal landscapes Fattori painted in Livorno. Other Macchiaioli artists [the late nineteenth century Florentine Impressionists], Abbati, Borrani and Sernesi, also used the same format even though it was probably Costa who always suggested it to Fattori. This horizontal elongation of the image permitted a new perception of the landscape and light that conveys a different sense of nature which is no longer idealized, but rather felt by the soul. Fattori did not use the “macchia” in an impulsive manner, rather he organized it in rigorous, almost geometric structure that maintains the harmony of the whole and the accord between the parts and between lights and volume.
Silvestro Lega Painting on the Rocks
In the context of the horizontal paintings he did in Livorno the previous year, Fattori painted another series of works that reveal the gradual strengthening of his figurative language. In this panel we perceive a process of synthesis of the descriptive elements and a proximity to the observer’s viewpoint that coincides with that of the painter. His use of the macchia is increasingly structured in specific divisions and contributes to the definition of the volumes. The rhythm of the planes is tight and draws in the observer by degrees, from the luminous rocks in the foreground to the just as luminous horizon that stands out against the leaden sea, while Lega appears as a joining element.
Diego Martelli at Castiglioncello
After his wife’s premature death in 1867, Fattori began to frequent the estate of the art critic Diego Martelli at Castiglioncello which since 1864 had been a place of continuous sojourns of other Macchiaioli painters. Working with Signorini, Borrani, Sernesi and Abbati stimulated Fattori to a constructive comparison that would give rise to several pictures of the same subject, drenched in the particular light of the Maremma. The portraits of Martelli, his wife and Valerio Biondi are extremely significant. In each of them the subject, immersed in the atmosphere of the estate gardens becomes an element of new motion in the rigorous structure of volumes that was typical of Fattori’s paintings. The contours are stylized while an unusual expressive meaning is concentrated in the subject.
On Patrol (The White Wall)
This is one of Fattori’s most famous paintings in which the equilibrium between the composition and the emotional feelings it emits reach a most successful level. The tension of Fattori’s volumes is translated into an elongated perspective that invites the viewer to go through the painting in depth; the diaphragm of the white wall that is suddenly broken offers the idea of time standing still. Alongside of many paintings of Risorgimento subjects from that period – that were often treated with a rhetoric and commemorative accent, this painting by Fattori restores the historical impact of the scene by grasping a common event in military life in an antiheroic sense, in a landscape soaked in glaring summer sunlight. Here history is welded to the sense of the mundane and of humanity in general.
With the same arrangement as On Patrol, the Roman Carts offers a chromatic unity of the setting to place lyrical emphasis on the figures. Here, too, time is blocked, everything stops and is captured in repose. The macchia brushstroke is enclosed by the drawing which, in turn, organizes the areas of color. Fattori had reached his maximum maturity and offers views of reality that contain extraordinary emotional power, a silent strength without drama or passion that puts all the elements of the composition on the same plane, the way the artist perceived them. If, in On Patrol, the chromatics are played out in the contrast between the white wall and the blue background, in this painting it is done in ochre and the black spots of the carts and the supine horse.
L’Aratura (Plowing the Fields)
In this period Fattori tended to simplify spatial composition using oblique cuts that rendered depth while, at the same time, reduced the luminous contrast to two juxtaposed areas: the upper part of the sky and the lower, dark portion of the plowed field. The desire to rarefy the elements led to a quick, thick brushstroke, far from all descriptivism, which for the animals became points of light within a dark fabric, and the ground offered the opportunity to modulate the lines of different colors within the dark context. The reality that Fattori painted was the product of the encounter between the artist’s perceptions and the emotions emanated by the rural area.
Portrait of His Stepdaughter
This is one of the masterpieces from Fattori’s late phase when the terseness of his pictorial language had reached its apex, so that he could create results of unparalleled quality with a few notations. In this case, Giulia, the daughter of his second wife, Marianna Bigazzi is presented in a single, gilded color range which however, presents a multiplicity of modulations from within that give body to the figure. The face emerges through intensity and the painter goes beyond a psychological recording of the subject to create a photographic – as it were, view of the whole person. Other confirmations of the extraordinary levels that Fattori’s works had attained are the Portrait of His Wife, the famous Self-Portrait and many other paintings of different subjects.
Giornata Grigia (Gray Day)
It was Giovanni Malesci, Fattori’s pupil and heir, who gave this painting its title. He edited the first general catalogue of the master’s works and noted the vivid gloom of this painting. During those years, when the pupils Nomellini, Muller and Pagni were moving towards the Impressionist solutions – drawn by the studies on the representation of the mobility of light, in proud isolation Fattori pursued the definition of a stereometric space. This painting, that is divided between the light and dark area responds to the solid structural grid of always. In the broader brushstrokes and design it reveals unusually modern accents, while the chromatic contraction that is rich in diverse effects reveals a more introspective interpretation of the landscape.