Giovanni Fattori – Stratigraphy
medium thickness panel.
in graphite pencil.
“a macchia” fields of oil color (spread in patches or spots).
Giovanni Fattori (Livorno, 6 settembre 1825 – Florence, 30 agosto 1908) – The libecciata (preparatory draft) – 1980-85 ca. oil on wood 19,2 x 32,2 cm. – Florence, Palazzo Pitti Modern Art Gallery
Giovanni Fattori – The technique
“I firmly believe that art does not need pedantry, but very simple means in all subjects… simple palette, few colors: too many useless colors make the luxury of amateurs. Here is my originality explained”.
The reflectography examinations provided very useful information on the working technique followed by Fattori, on a large number of works the drawing made before starting to paint was evident.
The infrared images of the Libecciata show the extreme synthesis and rapidity of the graphic sign that traces the contours of the tamarisk and the ridge of the dune, almost as if the artist did not lift the pencil from the tablet while drawing, following the visual impression from life.
We note here the typical elements of the study, where a seen image is framed in the form of a drawing directly on the painting.
The horizon is marked by a straight line of constant thickness made with the aid of a ruler.
This (drawn with a thin pencil mark that stops in correspondence with the shrub) had been imagined, in a first phase, much higher in the sky, that is, according to a lower point of view.
“L’impressione dal vero”
The drawing is performed directly on the surface of the wood without any preparation whatsoever. The support is often obtained from cigar boxes or in any case small tablets more suitable for painting practiced en plein air.
During the investigations it was found that the means with which the artist most often drew was, as for drawings on paper, pencil, that is graphite; this is perfectly visible to the naked eye in some watercolors as well as in the painting just sketched and left interrupted on the artist’s death (see: Le Ultime Pennellate of the Civic Museum Fattori in Livorno). The presence of other materials such as charcoal or brush with diluted color is rarer.
The pencil drawing has been found, even in the simplest and most immediate examples of the art of Fattori, with a more markedly Macchiaioli nature and which seem to have been drawn from direct observation of nature.
The stroke is in fact rapid, precisely with the intention of grasping the perceived elements with the utmost immediacy. Characteristic aspect of the artist is the tendency, found in every phase of the work, to simplify the composition, eliminating the elements deemed superfluous.
“As for the technique, I have now given my final farewell to the rather smooth one I used before and I threw myself into using a full-bodied impasto. Crazy expenses of colors but, on the other hand, greater speed of execution, an extraordinary vitality of the figures, a great modernity. ”
The “stain painting”
Following the distinctive traits of Macchiaioli painting, Fattori denies the traditional chiaroscuro to define volumes and distances and, using broad and flat brushstrokes, combines several spots of pure colors of different shades not mixed together. His stroke is typical of the Macchiaioli: fast, short and juxtaposed brushstrokes.
The works with thicker impasto generally correspond to works of limited size, particularly tablets; in this case the painting is carried out with an extraordinary firmness and certainty of hand.
The colors are applied directly to the wood surface without any preparation. Fattori often reveals the grain of the wood color itself, exploiting this element to obtain the desired effect¹.
Scientific analyzes have ascertained the use of complex mixtures of a large variety of traditional and synthetic pigments: lead white, zinc white, red ocher, cinnabar, vermilion, Prussian blue, ocher and Naples yellow, chrome yellow, cadmium yellow and zinc yellow experimenting with new and peculiar mixtures of pigments.
¹ Technical notes.
The color is used without the use of thinners and applied to the support as it comes out of the tube. Although there is no real preparation, the painter’s tablets are often treated with a light layer of “colletta” (glue) which reduces the porosity and absorbency of the wood.
Giovanni Fattori and the Macchiaioli
1855 in Florence marked the beginning of an open revolt against the artistic dictatorship of the Academy professors. Signorini and Borrani had already left the closed studio to paint small real life paintings on the street. Their deep conviction was that it was necessary to render “reality as it is and how it presents itself” and that nature could be “ surprised” in its essential reality only by the means of “patches of chiaroscuro color, each of which has its own value that can be measured in their relationship with eachother” (Cecioni), beyond the scholastic conventions of the outline drawing and the academic modeling.
«These paintings gave me the acute urge to study animals and landscape, to be a continual observer of military life. And this assiduity forced me to observe everything, and I was also interested, if possible, in putting on the canvas the physical and moral sufferings of everything that unfortunately happens» (Giovanni Fattori, 1859)
The young painters began to meet, between ’55 and ’67, at the Michelangelo café in Florence where they began to develop this new pictorial language. The chiaroscuro of common practice is replaced by combinations of dark and light color that lead to effects of great clarity and an unusual power of contrasts. With a technique similar to that of the French Impressionists, but independently of them, they achieved the visual impression with juxtaposed color spots so that the unity of the picture results from the relationship between more or less bright colors that the eye, at a distance, recreates and composes: “a dark spot over a light one”, thus abolishing sharp outlines and defined shapes.
The testimony of Adriano Cecioni, accredited theorist of the group is significant:
“ by means of spots of color, of light and dark, as for example: a single spot of color for the face, another for the hair, another, for the cloth, another for the jacket or dress, another for the skirt, another for the hands or feet, and so for the ground and the sky. The figures were no more than 15 cm long, a dimension that becomes true when you look … from a distance. .. in which the parts of the scene … are seen by masses not by detail; then the figure seen on a white wall or on the sky…. or on a part illuminated by the sun, was considered a dark spot above another clear one, in which dark spot only the main parts are taken into account …, that is, those that can be seen, as would be the head, without however eyes, nose and mouth; hands without fingers, clothes without creases
“ (Adriano Cecioni).
To better grasp the shade of chiaroscuro, the Macchiaioli often used a mirror blackened by smoke, “ton Gris”, which enhanced the contrasts of the image reflected in it.
Despite the fact that the result was similar to a sketch, rather than a finished painting, the impression of reality captured by the Macchiaioli is still realistic, therefore far from the impressionist one which, moreover, had completely abolished the use of black.
The Macchiaioli refused the use of strong lines to outline their subjects, but in reality, the abhorred drawing, thrown out of the door as an artificial circumscription of the bodies, came back through the side window as an invisible limit of the “spots”.
Manfredi Faldi 2019
Diane Kunzelman, Ezio Buzzegoli, I dipinti di Giovanni Fattori della Galleria d’Arte Moderna di palazzo Pitti in riflettografia infrarossa, in Giovanni Fattori. Dipinti 1854-1906, a cura di G. Matteucci, R Monti, E. Spalletti, Artificio 1987 pp 265-289
Ettore Spalletti, La libecciata (studio preparatorio) scheda 102 in I dipinti di Giovanni Fattori della Galleria d’Arte Moderna di palazzo Pitti in riflettografia infrarossa, in Giovanni Fattori. Dipinti 1854-1906, a cura di G. Matteucci, R Monti, E. Spalletti, Artificio 1987
Francesco Negri Arnoldi, Storia dell’arte Vol. III, Fabbri editori 1968
Roberto E. L. Panichi, I principi della pittura figurativa nelle testimonianze degli artisti e degli scrittori d’arte, Pisa, Giardini editori 1977
Leone Augusto Rosa, La tecnica della pittura dai tempi preistorici ad oggi, Società Editrice Libraria, Milano 1937
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