Everlasting impressions

Giovanni Fattori and the Florence Academy of Fine Art

Nicole Wallace
October 2, 2008

Devoting an entire exhibition to Giovanni Fattori, among Italy's most renowned plein---air artists, may at first seem a bit commonplace for the Florence Academy of Fine Art, home to works by more famous Italian artists, such as Botticelli and Michelangelo. The title of this exhibition, The Places of Giovanni Fattori: Past and Present, one of a series of regional events and exhibitions honoring Fattori, reads like any another routine exhibit in a city flourishing with art.


However, this retrospective centenary exhibition of over 130 paintings, drawings and engravings is not mundane. It is a noteworthy experience for anyone intrigued by the evolution of art, as well as for those eager to explore the history of one of Florence's most significant artistic institutions. Not the usual going-through-the-motions exhibit with an expensive gift shop and hectic crowds, this exhibit creates a vividly refreshing experience by smoothly intertwining over 60 years of Fattori's work with the stunning halls, cloisters, classrooms and galleries of the centuries-old Florence Academy of Fine Art. The installation, which spans three intimate galleries, not only transports the visitor on a historical journey, but also provokes a sense of nostalgia for the dynamic, bold and idealistic era that helped shape Fattori's work and life.


When Giovanni Fattori arrived in Florence from Livorno in 1846 to pursue his passion for drawing, he was only 21 years old; he was young, curious and introspective. After enrolling in the Academy, his precarious financial situation and the societal changes taking place around him quickly affected the young artist's perspectives and political views. As traditional practices and ways of working were changing, Fattori felt compelled to leave the Academy in 1859 only to return as a professor 17 years later. During the interlude he became one of the leaders of the group known as the Macchiaioli: a group of painters determined to break away from the venerable conventions taught by the academies of art and paint outdoors in order to capture natural light and color. Once back at the Academy, Fattori brought his techniques with him. He taught there until his death in 1908.


The Places of Giovanni Fattori: Past and Present beautifully illustrates Fattori's long and influential career as a professor at Academy. For example, the visitor begins with a peaceful walk through the cloister, composed of classical arches, columns and statues to a long corridor with designated turn-outs to various rooms: entering the exhibition the visitor physically follows in the footsteps of Fattori, establishing an immediate connection between artist and viewer. Fattori becomes tangible, accessible, and therefore more lucid to the visitor. Before seeing a single work, the visitor is invited to envision Fattori not simply as an innovative artist, but also as a real man, a teacher and a source of inspiration who taught and studied within those very same walls.


In this historical and elegant exhibition curated by Giulian a Videtta and Anna Gallo Martucci we do not simply learn about Fattori's significant career at the Academy, we feel it. In one of the three main galleries-romantically placed within the garden-we see how Fattori played a unique and progressive role in advancing the presence of female students at the Academy during the nineteenth century. Evocative of an art classroom, the gallery consists of over 25 works installed on antique wooden easels with evidence of paint still present along the edges. The walls are adorned with projected photographs of Fattori and his female students, while audio clips of classroom discussions delicately hover in the background. Simple, yet thought provoking, this gallery combines contemporary multimedia with paintings and historical documents to highlight an important change in the inner world of the Academy.


Next, the show turns to Fattori, his colleagues and a few of his male students.  It provides a window into the life of the Academy during the ‘Fattori years', focusing predominately on the evolution of Fattori's style and his artistic impact on the Academy. Emphasizing this impact, Fattori's reoccurring themes become the central focus of the third and last gallery of the exhibition appropriately entitled ‘The Academy Today. An Homage to Giovanni Fattori'. Curated by Luigi Bernardi, this gallery is an exquisite finale to a retrospective exhibit: present-day students of the Academy exhibit work created specifically for this program.


While the exhibition marks the centenary year of Fattori's death, his work continues to inspire. It goes on because it is a way of thinking and a way of living that opens up the mind. It is challenging but encouraging, eccentric but progressive. At the end of the journey, the visitor walks away still contemplating the intricate layers of thought, design and consciousness that comprise this poignant exhibition. 




Until November 23

Florence, Academy of Fine Arts and Academy of Drawing

via Ricasoli 66

€ 5,00 full; € 3,50 reduced; students with valid ID and school groups free

Open every day 9am - 7pm

For more information: www.firenzeperfattori.it



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