Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Art: Modern Italian Art

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone, Paris, Musee D’Orsay

 Vincent Willem Van Gogh was born on March 30th 1853. Van Gogh went to a boarding school at Jan Povily in Zevenbergen until 1866 and then attended state Secondary School King Willem II at Tilburg. Throughout the course of his life he had many professions: junior clerk for the art firm Goupil and Co., language teacher (teaching elementary French, German, and arithmetic), teacher at a boys’ school in Isleworth, occasional preacher at Iseworth, working for a bookshop, experimenting with theological studies, missionary work, and finally Van Gogh turns his attention to becoming a serious artist (“Vincent Van Gogh Biography”).  This painting is a night painting of Arles. Painting at night was a difficult endeavor and Van Gogh sought to capture all of the gentle colors along the river as they reflect the night sky. The constellation of the Great Bear and the lamp lighting nearby the river are both reflected in the shimmering waters. Standing closest to the viewer, a couple walks along the river enjoying the elegant night scene. The more famous Starry Night would be painted in less than a year (“Starry night over the Rhone”).

Edouard Manet Olympia, Paris, Musee D’Orsay


 Edouard Manet was born on 1832 in Paris into a wealthy upper class family. His parents permitted Manet to study art only after he proved incompetent at the Naval Academy. Many academics agree that Manet is one of the founders of the Impressionist movement because he broke with the traditions of the Renaissance, by painting not an exact freeze frame of reality, but an impression or sensation of reality by using thicker brush strokes and patches of color. Manet’s innovative style may have been provoked by the development of the camera. Cameras could accurately convey reality, but through Impressionism artists could convey something entirely unique (“Edouard Manet Biography”). The painting, Olympia, by Manet is a realist painting depicting a white nude model reclining on a bed and being presented with white flowers by a black man in a dark background. The scene hearkens back to the nude of Giorgione and Titian in the same pose, and Ingres’ classism is evident within the piece. When the painting was first presented at the Salon in 1865, critics first reacted with anger at the seeming parody imbued, and the stark contrasting colors were not appreciated. In this heated atmosphere, some historians claim that Impressionist ideas took more definitive shape because the heated atmosphere allowed societal prejudices to come into focus. The focus on societal prejudices allowed artists with a different point of view to develop a more complete perspective in order to respond to the competing artistic notions.

Rome,Vatican Museum"Il lago di Costanza da Kreuzlingen"

Ernest Ludwig KirchnerErnst Ludwig Kirchner was born in 1880. In 1901, he went to the Tecnishe Hochschule in Dresden to study architecture. Two years later he studied painting in Munich by going to art classes at the school of Wilhelm von Debschitz and Hermann Obrist. Going to museums and exhibitions in Munich and going to Nuremberg and seeing Albrecht Durer’s original woodblocks motivated Kirchner to become a painter. Kirchner’s style of painting developed quickly as a result of the incredible amounts of works being produced including pieces portraying the Moritzburg lakes near Dresden, woodcuts, lithographs, drawings, and a wide variety of works being produced in the studio. Kirchner sought to develop a simplified way of expressing himself and to the art of Oceanic and African artists had a powerful impact upon him that helped him to achieve his end. At the beginning of the World War I, Kirchner enlisted in the army, but he could not handle the life of a soldier. He endured a nervous breakdown which made him leave the army. Afterwards, an addiction to sleeping pills and alcohol would haunt Kirchner for the rest of his life culminating when he killed himself on June 15, 1938. The above painting shows 6 people walking along a road overlooking Lake Constance. The colors are soft adding to the overall effect of a relaxing scene by the lake.

Rome, Vatican Museum"La danse macabre"

Gino SeveriniGino Severini was born on April 7, 1883.  In 1899 after developing himself as an Italian painter, graphic artist and sculptor, Severini went to Rome and took classes at the Villa Medici for further development. His interactions with Giacomo Balla, Signac, Modigliani, Picass, Braque, and Griss along with the study of Seurat’s paintings, all had a profound impact on him. He started working as a serious artist in 1901, and on February 11, 1910 Severini signed the “Manifesto of Futurist Painting”. Unlike his contemporaries who were more focused on the dynamism of machines, Severini was more interested in the depiction of human bodies. After 1915, Severini’s work became more focused on Cubist depictions making use of geometric figures. In addition to his works as an artist, Severini also wrote several books on art, and in 1950 Severini received the Grand Prize at the Biennale in Venice (“Gino Severini”). The painting entitled, The Macabre Dance, makes effective use of geometric figures to portray a skeleton beside another figure and both seem to be dancing to a powerful beat. The contrast of the light and dark colors in geometric space further enhances the piece by drawing the reader’s eye and inspiring the imagination.

Vienna, Modern Art Museum"Au bord de la mer"

 Giorgio De ChiricoOn July 10, 1888, Giorgio de Chirico was born in Volos the capital of Thessaly. De Chirico’s father Evaristo was an engineer that fervently encouraged his love of art, and de Chirico alluded to his father in a few of his paintings with plumes of smoke that seem to come out of a factory or train. He studied Schopenauer, Nietzsche, Weininger, and the ancient philosophers. In 1910, de Chirico began living in Florence where he was influenced by Giotto and Tuscan painting.  In 1911, he visited Paris and interacted with several avant garde painters and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. His style of including philosophical meaning and mystery came to be known as metaphysical painting. De Chirico stayed in contact with what was happening in Paris, and he also encountered the Dada movement. In 1916, he exchanged letters with Carra who admired him and they became friends for a while. Three years later he presented his first personal exhibition at Anton Giulio Bragaglia’s Art Gallery.  In 1925, de Chirico married Raissa Gurievich Kroll, and on November 20, 1978 he passed away at the age of 90 (“Biography of Giorgio de Chirico”).

Florence, Pitti Palace "Napoleone Giotti"

Adriano CecioniAdriano Cecioni was a member of the Macchioli. This group of artists focused on the principles of Truth, Reality, and Nature and their goal was to free art from being artificial and superficial by painting or sculpting impressions gleaned from reality. Adriano felt strongly about this movement, and he writes: “the Macchiaiolo painter must have neither affection for nor sympathy with the past…the divorce between the modern and the old must be absolute” (Tisdall & Bozzolla, 23). This movement differed from the Impressionists because the objective was: “not to dissolve figures…but to suggest boldly simplified form through the contrasted use of colors and chiaroscuro” (Tisdall & Bozzolla, 23). Adriano Cecioni developed his talents, and in 1857 he won the award for a “bozzetto in bassorilievo d’invenzione” (Biome, 92). This sculpture portrays a stout portly man with a top hat and overcoat, and the figure has smooth, soft, realistic features.

Florence, Pitti Palace"Renioli sul Mugnone"

  Odoardo BorraniOdoardo Borrani was a Macchiaoli of the lower middle class participating in the Risorgamento. The goals of the Risorgimento were to: “expel foreign rulers, unify the peninsula, and give it a secular, constitutional government” (Boime, 11). Unlike most of the fathers of the later Impressionist painters, Borrani’s father supported his artistic striving from the first. Painters such as Borrani were also different from the Impressionist painters in another respect. The Macchioli would go to vacation locales, but instead of focusing on the vacationers they would focus on the working class people living in the area (10). This painting shows the renaioli or sand-draggers digging out the sand in the river for use in cement or other building products. The balmy sun casts warm rays on the scene, and the viewer can almost feel the sweat on the worker’s brow, and the reflection of light and scenery into the muddy waters add to the realism of the scene.

Florence, Pitti Palace"Il Salto Delle Pecore"

  Giovanni FattoriGiovanni first began learning about art through contact with Guiseppe Baldini. Later in 1846 Fattori went to the Fine Art Academy and Bezzuoli. From 1848-1849, Fattori could not paint as a result of the war, but after the war ended he included many military scenes or images in his paintings. Approximately 10 years later under the influence of Nino Costa, Fattori increased his artistic production, so in 1861 he won a national competition with the painting, Dopo la Battaglia di Magenta. Fourteen years later, Fattori visited Paris and he saw the artistic works of Manet. The artwork of Manet, however, had little or no influence on the work of Fattori because his style had already matured (“Biography of Giovanni Fattori”).  This painting, Il Salto delle Pecore, shows the jump of the lambs. Fattori was a more well-known member of the Macchiaioli, and he described the technique in a unique way: “a friend showed us a painting which inspired us to see a black pig against a white wall. There’s the spot.” (Tisdall & Bozzolla, 23). As another Macchiaiolo, Fattori focused on depicting scenes of the working class citizens, and this painting is no different. This painting shows the so called jump of the lambs in which the workers herd the sheep to another location.

Florence, Pitti Palace"Donne Sedute"

  Telemaco Signorini was also a Macchiaioli artist, and he enjoyed writing pieces in order to clarify the true nature of the Macchiaioli. In order to express the ultimate goal of the Macchiaioli Signorini writes: “the aim of the group was the creation of an art that would be a page of our times, a reflection of our sentiments and our customs” (Tisdall & Bozzolla, 23). In fact, Signorini’s ideals hearken back to the writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Proudhon sought liberty that was: “progressive in its development, intimately linked with spontaneity and movement” and his call for change would be a nonviolent one (Boime, 100). In the same way, members of the Macchiaioli sought a peaceful unification of Italy in the Risorgimento (Tisdall & Bozzolla, 23). This painting shows a group of women seated on a bench going about the tasks of the day. Some of the women stare off into the distance seemingly bored while others are occupied with their hands (knitting?) or holding their children. The splotches of color are clearly evident in this painting, and they help to make the viewer feel a sense of peace and warmth about the whole scene.

Florence, Pitti Palace

Silvestro LegaIn 1843, Silvestro Lega was born in Romagna. He went to school at the Accademia di Belle Arti with Guiseppe Bezzuoli, and Luigi Mussini was his teacher. Lega’s first works followed the style that is typical of students from the academy. In 1852, Lega received first place at the Academy triennial competition with the painting, David pacifies Saul with the music of the zither. Lega came into contact with those artists who often visited Caffe Michelangelo, and this impacted him immensely. Lega’s artwork started sharing features of plein air painting and the macchia technique could be found in some of his works. In 1861, Ambush of the Italian Bersaglieri corps in Lombardy was shown at the Florence International exhibition and Lega finally fully began using the style of the Macchiaioli. During the 1860s, he went to Pergentina to paint and a woman, Virginia Batelli, was often the source of much of his inspiration. Eventually depression coupled with eye disease put Lega through hard times, but he made it through and developed a style focusing on the use of bright colors, the Gabbro period. He lived with the Bandini family until 1894 when he died at the hospital as a poor man (“Silvestro Lega Biography”). This painting shows David who pacifies the anger of Saul. The grasping gesture of the scene testifies to the violence that is narrowly avoided.

Works Cited 

Barron, Stephanie. Degenerate Art: the Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany. Harry N. Abrams. 0-423. 

“Biography of Giorgio De Chirico.” RAI International Online. 31 Mar. 2008 http://www.italica.rai.it/eng/principal/topics/bio/dechirico.htm

“Biography of Giovanni Fattori.” RAI International Online. 07 April. 2008


Boime, Albert. The Art of the Macchia and the Risorgimento. The University of Chicago P, 1993. 0-338. 

“Edouard Manet Biography.” World Wide Arts Resources. 31 Mar. 2008 http://wwar.com/masters/m/manet-edouard.html

“Gino Severini.” Ketterer Kunst. 31 Mar. 2008 http://www.kettererkunst.com/bio/GinoSeverini-1883-1966.shtml

“Manet, Edouard Olympia.” WebMuseum, Paris. 31 Mar. 2008 http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/manet/olympia/

“Silvestro Lega.” Bacci Di Capaci Art Gallery. 31 Mar. 2008 http://www.800artstudio.com/en/lega.php

“Starry Night Over the Rhone.” The Vincent Van Gogh Paintings Project. 31 Mar. 2008 http://www.vangoghreproductions.com/paintings/1888-33.html

Tisdall, Caroline, and Angelo Bozzolla. Futurism. Oxford UP, 1977. 0-216.

 “Vincent Van Gogh Biography.” Artquotes.Net. 31 Mar. 2008 http://www.artquotes.net/masters/vangogh_biography.htm.

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