Giovanni Fattori was a famous Italian artist, living in the 19th century between Livorno and Florence. He was one of the leading forerunners of Macchiaioli painters in Tuscany and is regarded as playing an important role in Italian painting history.

Known primarily for his landscape paintings and portrait works, Giovanni Fattori was born in 1825 in Livorno. Several years later he began studying at The Academy of Fine Arts in Florence under Giuseppe Bezzuoli which helped bring his paintings to a new level of beauty.

giovanni fattori portrait

Giovanni Fattori portrait painting

His early works included portraits and several historical scenes influenced by Bezzuoli — often scenes from Medieval or Renaissance history. One of his favourite subjects to paint was the Maremma landscape which is a vast area in Italy bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea. Today this area is an unspoilt tourist destination which is well worth a visit.

In 1850 he started hanging around Caffè Michelangelo in Florence on via Larga, that was the meeting point for anti-academic artists discussing new forms of expression for art. Here he met Telemaco Signorini, a young talented Florentine painter with whom he founded the Macchaioli movement a few years later.

In 1859 he won a competition for a patriotic battle scene, organized by the Concorso Ricasoli, with his painting Dopo la battaglia di Magenta (After the battle of Magenta). This was considered by many to be the first Italian painting of contemporary history. The financial reward enabled him to marry his first of three wives Settimia Vannucci and settle down in Florence.  He won many more awards in this time including another battle scene Prince Amadeo Feritio at Custoza which received an award at the Parma exhibition. The military imagery seen in some of his art stems from witnessing Livorno’s invasion in 1849 which shocked him and hence influenced his works.

In 1869 he was appointed professor at Florence’s Academy of Fine Arts and later he became an honorary professor in 1880.

From 1875 onwards he began producing many graphics including a significant number of etchings. These met approval at the exhibition Promotrice in Florence (1886) and at the Esposizione Nazionale in Bologna (1888). In the same year, these last etchings were acquired by the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome. His etchings were innovative through their technique and composition.

Fattori painting

In 1884 he produced an album with 20 original lithographs: 20 Ricordi del vero. 1875 saw Fattori travelling to Paris where he came in contact with the works of Manet. His meetings with French artists – and, in particular, with the Impressionists – left him unimpressed. In 1888 he was promoted to Resident Professor of Drawing in the Accademia of Florence and was also named Professor of Figure Study at the School of Architecture.

Fattori participated in exhibitions all over Italy and Europe such as Cologne, Bologna, Milan, Turin, Florence and London. At exhibitions in Paris, he received an honourable mention in 1889 and the gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in 1900.

Among his most important works in Florence are La rotonda Palmieri, Carro con i buoi, Barrocci romani and Lo Staffato at the Gallery of Modern Art of Pitti Palace. In Livorno the Civic Museum Giovanni Fattori has the portrait of Mrs Martelli in Castiglioncello, the Torre Rossa and Assalto alla Madonna della Scoperta. Other relevant works are the Portrait of Cousin Argia and portrait of Mr Martelli in Castiglioncello.

What turns Fattori’s works into masterpieces is the unique technique and use of the macchia and his authentic representation of reality.

Giovanni Fattori died in a classroom at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence in 1908 and was buried, with other illustrious people from Livorno, in the loggia next to the church Santuario della Madonna di Montenoro in the village of Montenero.

Examples of his art can be seen at Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Turin, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Palazzo Pitti, Firenze. Also in New Zealand, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and in North America at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The Giovanni Fattori Municipal Museum is situated inside the park of Villa Fabbricotti, Leghorn, in a 19th century palace. The museum Hoses a nice collection of paintings by Fattori. The museum also displays works of other Macchiaioli painters, such as Telemaco Signorini and Silvestro Lega. A statue of Giovanni can be seen in San Ligorio.