Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Macchiaioli, Form complimenting Color

Article by Llewellyn Matthews
Telemaco Signorini. Title: Il ghetto diFirenz
A group of Italian painters called, 'The Macchiaioli' were active in Tuscany in the late 1800s and early 1900s and they are among the true precursors to plein air painting. 

They broke with the conventions then taught by the Italian academies of art and did much of their painting outdoors. 

To the right is a painting by Telemaco Signorini depicting what is now the glamorous Piazza della Repubblica in the center of Florence.

They preceeded the French Impressionists, and for this reason, are sometimes (erroneously) called the Italian impressionists.  Although both movements were dissatisfied with art as taught by academies (desiring to leave neoclassicism), they have little else in common.

Llewellyn Lloyd
The Macchiaioli sought to invigorate the Italian painting mode of their era by emulating the bold tonal structure of the great masters such as Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Tintoretto.  Although some of the Macchiaioli admired the French Barbizon School, they did not embrace the Impressionist approach of dividing the palette into color spectrums, painting blue shadows and prioritizing color over depicting form.  In other words, the Impressionists were fascinated with pure color and optic effects, whereas the Macchiaioli retained an emphasis on rendering form in the tradition of the great masters.

Telemaco Signorini
The Macchiaioli were also very political and embedded in the social issues of their day, some even fighting along with Garibaldi on behalf of the Risorgimento and its ideals.  As such their work is represents an historic bookmark, addressing social issues and the hardships faced by Italians of the times.  Many died in poverty and obscurity, as their art was often not well received by those who collected but there is also the matter of the great collectors who represented and traded artists works. 

Llewellyn Lloyd

In France the innovative art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) was responsible for much of the success of Impressionism and he is famously remembered now as a result. 

Many Impressionists also came from economically privileged backgrounds (often painting the privileged society) and could well afford to depart from the artistic conventions of the academy system.
In Italy the Macchiaioli champion was Diego Martelli (1839–96) the critic and art collector who also the groups theorist. At the time, the art world was harsh in the assessment of their art, sometimes ridiculing their brushwork as scrubby, sometimes derisively calling their technique “macchia,” meaning spotty or worse. 

Opinions have come full circle and these artists are well recognized in Italy but only beginning to be known in other countries.  Indeed it is difficult to find a good book in English about them.

Nevertheless, today the techniques and the subjects of the Macchiaioli resonate well with modern landscape painting ideals.  They painted small sketches outdoors for later use in studio pieces.  They understood the rendering of form and composing paintings through a value structure and they are among the true predecessors of modern landscape painting.

Many of their works, sketches and larger pieces can be seen at the Pitti Palace Museum of Arte Moderna and the Museum of Arte Moderna in Rome.

Tuscany Plein Air salutes the work of the art of these outstanding artists.
Giuseppe Abbati          Saverio Altamura          Cristiano Banti               Luigi Bechi
Giovanni Boldini           Odoardo Borrani           Ferdinando Buonamici
Vincenzo Cabianca     Niccolò Cannicci           Adriano Cecioni             Vito D'Ancona
Serafino De Tivoli        Giovanni Fattori             Egisto Ferroni                Lorenzo Gelati
Francesco Gioli           Silvestro Lega                Stanislao Pointeau        Antonio Puccinelli
Raffaello Sernesi         Telemaco Signorini       Michele Tedesco           Adolfo Tommasi

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