Giovanni Fattori is considered to be the principal representative of the Macchiaioli movement. Impressionism did not make much of a mark on Italy during the 19th century, its place was occupied by the Macchiaioli (the name coming from the Italian 'macchia', meaning 'patch' or 'blot'). The Macchiaioli held their first exhibitions in Florence. Rather than following any specific aesthetic doctrine, they were more of a social movement, expressing their ideas through art. This is perhaps why they did not ally themselves with the Impressionists, even though they admired them: because they felt that the pure aestheticism of the Impressionists did not suit the expression of their own political and social convictions. Almost all of the Macchiaioli were from working-class backgrounds, and their concern was to speak out about the life and work of the Italian working classes, and their battle for social emancipation.
Giovanni Fattori was of humble origin. He started to paint in his home town, but never took formal lessons. Then in 1846, he went to Florence where he worked for a year in the studio of Giuseppe Bezzuoli, before enrolling at the Accademia. From that moment on he started to take note of all his observations via countless sketches, set down in notebooks that never left his side. Echoes of these sketches would later appear in his etchings.
He fought in the revolution and only returned to Florence in 1850, when he became close to Giovanni Costa. In 1869 Fattori was appointed as a member of the teaching staff at the Accademia in Florence, and in 1886 he began to teach the advanced class. In 1875 he went on a brief trip to Paris, where he became interested in the work of the Impressionists, although this did not modify his own ideas about art. He exhibited in Munich, Vienna, and in Philadelphia, where he won medals. He also exhibited in Paris, receiving a mention in 1889, and a gold medal in 1900 at the Exposition Universelle.
Fattori did not immediately adhere to the ethos of the Macchiaioli; for many years he remained faithful to traditional ideas about composition and subject, attempting a balanced synthesis between plein-air painting and the centrality of the subject, putting him closer to Manet than the Impressionists. These were the aims behind the paintings French Soldiers and Patrol along the Seashore of around 1860, which are made up of lively but composed blots. He also took on more ambitious subjects: Mary Stuart at Crookstone Camp in 1861 and The Italian Camp after the Battle of Magenta, for which he won a government competition in 1862.
Fattori regarded these carefully planned compositions as his finest works. However, modern critics prefer his more spontaneous works, in particular The Rotunda of Palmieri (1866); Woman with an Umbrella (1866); Diego Martelli in Castiglioncello; Woman in the Open Air; The Stone Breaker; his landscapes of the Florentine countryside, then of the Roman countryside, between 1873 and 1880; and his landscapes of the maremme of Tuscany, painted between 1880 and 1895.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Florence (Uffizi): The Italian Camp at the Battle of Magenta; Portrait of the Artist
Livorno: L'Attaco alla Madonna della Scoperta (Attack on the Madonna della Scoperta)
Milan (Pinacoteca di Brera): Prince Amedeo Wounded at Custozza
Naples (Mus. di San Martino): The Battle of Custozza
Prato: Filippo Brunelleschi; Battle of Custozza; Episode from the Battle of Magenta; Mary Stuart; St John the Baptist Rebuking Herod
Rome (Gal. Nazionale): Le Macchiajole; Wardroom of the 49th Regiment at Custozza
Trieste (Civico Mus. Revoltella): Bivouac