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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Giovanni Fattori

Cowboys and herds in the Maremma,1894, Giovanni Fattori.
Giovanni Fattori Self-portrait,
Back in the mid-1960s, the Italian filmmaker, Sergio Leone, shot a series of three "western" movies in his native Italy starring Clint Eastwood. They came to be known in the U.S. as "spaghetti westerns." Although Giovanni Fattori was not a filmmaker, he completed several paintings of real Italian cowboys herding cattle and other livestock similar to Cowboys and herds in the Maremma (above) from around 1894. None of them much resembled Clint Eastwood. He was also fond of painting farm animals, especially, it would seem, a team of white oxen pulling a red cart. I came upon at least a half-dozen different paintings with apparently the same pristine bovine team. His Farmer with Bullock Cart (below) from 1897 is one of the better ones.
Farmer with Bullock Cart , 1897, Giovanni Fattori
Giovanni Fattori didn't start out wanting to be a painter of farmers, cows, and horses. Born in 1825 in Livorno, Italy, he first studied with local artists before moving on to Florence's Academia di Belli Arti, although it seems he was more interested in reading Medieval adventure novels and political activism than in painting or drawing. During this same time he began hanging out at the Caffè Michelangiolo in Florence with artists such as Giovanni (Nino) Costa, Silvestro Lega, Giuseppe Abbati, Cristiano Banti, Odoardo Borrani, and others who later came to be known as the Macchiaioli (pronounced MACK-key-a-OLy). This tongue-twisting group were fascinated by the French Barbizon painters and the novel idea of painting outdoors, on location, though in a somewhat more realistic mode than the Impressionist, who were just starting their endeavors at the time.

Mary Stuart at Gravestone, 1861, Giovanni Fattori
Fattori's early work involved a desire to paint history, specifically the Medieval history he loved reading so much. His Mary Stuart at Gravestone (above) is representative of his high-minded artistic calling. However, there wasn't much market for English history in Italy at the time so Fattori turned his attention to Italian battle scenes and military art with somewhat more success, though these came at a time when such art was slipping from public favor, even in Italy. His Charge of the Cavalry at Montebello (below) dates from 1862, and depicts a minor battle in the Second Italian War of Independence. It was awarded prizes in competition but was little appreciated in the marketplace. It looked like a pitched battle but, who could tell what was happening?

Charge of the Cavalry at Montebello, 1862, Giovanni Fattori.
Those who relish battle scenes like lots of details with their death and
destruction and devastation. Fattori's battles didn't measure up.
Farmer with a Collapsed Horse,
1903, Giovanni Fattori
As he labored to care for his wife, who was dying of tuberculosis, Fattori began to rely on portraits, landscapes, and genre more and more to eke out a meager living. Then, with the death of his wife in 1867, Fattori moved to Florence and a larger studio where he once more tried his hand at battle scenes celebrating Italian victories down through history. It was a valiant effort but it didn't fly. Instead he became a leader in Italian Impressionism and plein-air painting, which is where all the farmers, horses, cowboys, and ox-carts came in. He married a second time, only to once more lose his wife to an untimely death. Money problems continued to dog his efforts to exhibit and sell his work. He continued to teach at the Florence Academy of Fine Arts, though with no small amount of desperation as he began to see his students gravitating toward Post-impressionism and the many separate painting styles falling under that broad designation. In his old age Fattori once more married, his third wife becoming his caregiver in the years leading up to his death in 1908. Giovanni Fattori is buried in his hometown of Livorno not far from a museum dedicated to his works.

The Stirrup, 1880, Giovanni Fattori--a painter with a sense of humor.


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