Art e Dossier

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Art History

Giovanni Segantini: biography

Giovanni Battista Emanuele Maria Segatini was born on 15 January 1858 at Arco, in the province of Trento, Italy. (He added the “n” to his surname later to match the nickname “Segante” that his classmates at the Accademia di Brera had bestowed on him.) During his childhood he suffered a series of traumas that would contribute to transforming his adult life into a continuous quest for balance, unbridled luxury and solitary work. His mother, Margherita née De’ Girardi died after a severe illness in 1865 when he was only seven. That April, his father Antonio, a peddler of knickknacks in eternal financial trouble, decided to take the young Giovanni to Milan and leave him in the care of his stepsister, Irene. She, however, was unable to care for him. In 1870, four years after his father’s death Giovanni was arrested in Milan for vagrancy and sent to the Marchiondi reformatory. After an attempt to escape, he was released early in 1873 thanks to the intervention of his stepbrother Napoleone who tried to interest him in photography in his shop in Trentino. Giovanni preferred to return to Milan, and in 1875 enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, taking evening classes (until 1879). During those years, as he passionately studied the Lombard naturalistic painters (especially the “luminist” Tranquillo Cremona) he became one of the most talented artists at the Milan school. When he met the painter, critic and art merchant, Vittore Grubicy in 1880 who urged him to follow the examples of the French “pointillists” who were relatively unknown in Italy, it brought him greater financial security through a contract that gave Grubicy the exclusive rights to his works and gave Giovanni a weekly salary. That year Segantini moved to Pusiano in Brianza where he lived with his lifelong companion, Bice Bugatti who gave him four children. In Brianza Giovanni shared his work with the painter Emilio Longoni (who was also backed by Grubicy). In 1882, following the showing of four canvases and five pastels at the Società per le Belle Arti ed Esposizione in Milan, at Caglio, in Brianza, he painted At the Fence (Alla Stanga), the apex of the period’s naturalistic studies that brought him the gold medal at the Universal Exposition in Amsterdam in 1886. That year Segantini and his family moved to Savognino (where they would remain until 1894), a village in the Grisons Alps to become the “painter of the mountains” and he began adopting the Divisionist technique that became official with the second version of the painting Ave Maria at the Crossing (1886-1888). Towards the end of the ‘eighties his works were acquiring international renown, through his participation in the Italian exhibition in London (1888) and the Universal Exposition in Paris (1889). soon he decided to rebel against Vittore Grubicy’s artistic patronage and moved closer to his brother, Alberto Grubicy who became his new patron. His greatest masterpieces date from this period The Two Mothers (1889), The Punishment of Luxury (1891), The Unnatural Mothers (1894), The Angel of Life (1894) that would take his technical “Divisionism” into a symbolist dimension similar to the Middle European figurative language and the Viennese Secession. The essential realism of his works would gradually evolve towards new allegorical and literary interests, woven into a spirituality with a decadent matrix. His need for purification from uncontaminated nature fit into this quest for spirituality and meditation: he moved to Maloja in the Engadin. First the family lived in the Kuomi Chalet and then they moved (because of unpaid rent and taxes) to the Belvedere Castle. In 1895 at the Venice Biennale he received a medal for his painting Il Ritorno al Paese Natio (Return to the Native Land), proving Segantini’s Eruopean scope; that same year, “Pan”, journal of the Berlin Secession dedicated an entire issue to him. For the Swiss pavilion at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris he had been working – since 1898 – on a complex project Life, Nature and Death that remained unfinished because of his sudden death due to an attack of peritonitis high in the mountains at the Schafberg lodge on 28 September 1899.


The works