Livornese and Macchiaiolo
Born in Livorno on 6th September 1825, Giovanni Fattori is the city’s most famous artist, and it is not by chance that Livorno’s only public art gallery is named after him.
Fattori is best known for having been one of the main artists in the Macchiaioli movement, a group which produced surprisingly fresh and vivid paintings, considered forerunner of the Impressionists. Fattori attained brilliant effects of light and colour by the use of strong colour patches.
He began his artistic training under local artist Giuseppe Baldini, but moved to Florence in 1846 and continued his studies under artist Giuseppe Bezzuoli. However, not much remains of his early works, apart from sketches he made in the pocket notebooks he always kept with him and on which he based some of his later works.
Fattori was involved in the Partito D’Azione, the democratic anti-Austrian movement during the Risorgimento, distributing clandestine publications and actively participating in the uprising in Livorno against the Austrians.
His development to maturity as a painter was unusually slow. His first paintings date from the early 1850s and include some portraits, as well as a few historical scenes, often from Medieval or Renaissance history.
In about 1857 he was introduced to the style of Ingres by fellow artist Enrico Pollastrini, also a pupil of Giuseppe Bezzuoli. This influenced Fattori’s historical paintings. One of his best historical themes was Mary Stuart at the Battlefield of Langside painted between 1858 and 1860, based on his reading of Walter Scott.
Fattori's fellow painters in Florence began to return from Paris enthusiastic about the then novelty of painting out of doors, from real life. He was influenced by Roman landscape painter Giovanni Costa whose example encouraged him to follow his colleagues in realistic art and painting en plein air. It was during this period that Fattori joined the Tuscan Macchiaioli movement.
He became famous for his military paintings, such as The Italian Field after the Battle of Magenta, for which he won a prize in 1859 at the Concorso Ricasoli. The prize money made it possible to marry his first wife Settimia Vannucci and to settle with her in Florence.
From 1861-67 Fattori and his wife lived in Livorno where his wife was treated for tuberculosis. During this period he mainly painted themes from rural life and some portraits, demonstrating his mastery of the macchia technique.
Fattori’s wife died from tuberculosis in 1867. Greatly depressed by the new Kingdom of Italy in 1861, which did not live up to his expectations or reflect the ideals of the Risorgimento, as well as by the death of his wife, Fattori spent the summer at his friend, art critic Diego Martelli’s farm in Castiglioncello, a few miles south of Livorno, where he painted landscapes and studies of rustic life.
He visited Paris for the first time in 1875 but on his return was unenthusiastic about the Impressionists he had seen there.
From 1869 he gave private painting lessons at the Florence Academy, one of his pupils being his fellow Livornese Amedeo Modigliani.
The 1880s saw Fattori painting many scenes from rural life in the Maremma, the area in the south west of Tuscany. His large-scale canvas Maremma Cowboys driving the Herds is probably one of his most famous works and is on permanent display in Livorno’s Fattori Gallery.
In 1891 Fattori married his second wife, Marianna Bigozzi Martinelli. They lived in poverty and he was forced to give private lessons. Unable to buy frames for his paintings, he was even prevented from exhibiting his works at the exhibition in Dresden in 1896.
His second wife died in 1903, and he married for the third time, Fanny Martinelli, in 1906.
In 1903, Fattori wrote: “ Do you know which is the worst animal? Man. Why? Egotistic, false and a betrayer...I believe in nothing. I hold nothing sacred but my wife and stepdaughter. I am an atheist because I do not believe there can be a God on whom good and evil depend... I have spent my years hoping and I will end discouraged.”
His late works reflect this disillusionment, in particular the work entitled The Dead Horse – What Next?
Giovanni Fattori died on 30 August 1908 in Florence and is buried in the loggia next to the Sanctuary of Montenero in Livorno, along with other illustrious figures.