Pronunciation: /mak.kjaˈjɔ.le/

Les Macchiaioli, des Impressionistes Italiens?

I recently had the pleasure of visiting an exposition dedicated to the Macchiaoli, a group of painters from the 1800s who hold a special place in my heart.

Art historians have often noted the similarities between the Macchiaioli and the Impressionists, as both groups sought to capture the fleeting beauty of everyday life. However, while the Impressionists have become more widely known and commercialized over time, the Macchiaioli remain a hidden gem for those who appreciate their unique style and vision.

While I have a deep admiration for the Impressionists, there’s something about the Macchiaioli that speaks to me on a more personal level. Perhaps it’s their unpretentious approach to painting, or their emphasis on capturing the essence of everyday life. Whatever the reason, I find myself drawn to their work time and time again.

The Macchiaioli (literally, patch- or spot-makers), was a group of Italian artists based in Tuscany during the second half of the 19th century, formed more than a decade before the French Impressionists. Their work was influenced by artists such as Corot, Courbet, the painters of the Barbizon School, and other 19th-century plein-air painters whose work they saw on their visits to Paris, especially in the Exposition universelle of 1855.

Telemaco Signorini, Giovanni Fattori and Silvestro Lega were the founders of the movement. Active from the 1850s and 1860s, they met at the Caffè Michelangelo in Florence to discuss and exchange artistic views on “modern” painting. The main protagonists of the movement were also Giuseppe Abbati, Cristiano Banti, Odoardo Borrani, Vincenzo Cabianca, Vito d’Ancona, Giovanni Boldini as well as the immediately following generation of artists who, together with the founding fathers of the movement, gave life to the current of Tuscan Naturalism.
Initially, the Macchiaioli called themselves “progressives” and their aim was to challenge the Italian academy.

The output of the Macchiaioli includes enormous Risorgimento battle scenes and other military subjects, including landscapes, and peasant and bourgeois subjects; they are, however, best-known and loved for the small, sketch-like paintings from which their nickname is derived (the ‘macchia’ being a sketch-like composition using blocks of colour).

History of the Macchiaioli

Initially not understood, harshly criticized, the Macchiaioli were a group of artists with a rebellious and independent spirit. Abandoning the historical and mythological scenes of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, they opened up to a realist and immediate painting, giving life to a painting precisely with dense and colorful “spots”, with short brushstrokes to make the subjects more truthful, in an attempt to reproduce reality as it appears at a glance.

The Macchiaioli (who, as mentioned above, would not be so called until 1862, and would immediately make that derogatory nickname their own) immediately came to the fore in a polemical sense, as is often the case when a group of young artists intends to subvert the rules.

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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