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1878 - the year French Impressionism arrived in Italy

1878 - the year French Impressionism arrived in Italy


While in France the Impressionists had already been active for some years and their fame was spreading, in Italy this artistic current was still almost completely unknown. Until 1878, when Promotrice Fiorentina introduced also two Impressionist works in an exhibition. Promotrice Fiorentina was a company set up in 1843 to promote and support artists and to make their art well known. 

Until then, in Italy this style was unknown even to art critics, but Diego Martelli, a Macchiaioli theorist, collector and art critic who had been living in Paris for a period of time; he decided to include in the exhibition held in Florence in 1878 also two paintings made by Camille Pissarro, two works other than the usual. 

During his stay in Paris, Diego Martelli used to attend the places where the Impressionists met and with Camille Pissarro he formed a strong friendship, a bond based on mutual esteem and admiration by the critic towards the works created by Pissarro. 

Not only that, Martelli's desire to bring canvases by Pissarro to Italy was also due to two other reasons: the difficult financial situation the French artist was in and the similarity between the works of the Impressionist and the Macchiaioli. Thus, the critic convinced Camille Pissarro to sell him two paintings and send them to Florence. We are talking about two small paintings: "The cut of the hedge" (La taille de la haie) and "Landscape - The approach of the storm" (Paysage - L'approche de l'orage).

The paintings arrived in time to be exhibited at the exhibition in Florence, but Pissarro's works were not welcomed in the way Diego Martelli had hoped. The Florentine critics and painters not only gave negative judgements to the paintings but were outraged by what they saw, and they strongly disdained Pissarro's work. 

In essence, the Macchiaioli artists considered the Impressionist works as outdated, banal and decidedly far behind their technique, despite the fact that there were clearly visible similarities between the two styles.

Even if the various Macchiaioli exponents had harshly criticized Pissarro's paintings, Diego Martelli, after having scolded several artists who had expressed themselves in a negative way about Pissarro's works, organized two conferences in Livorno where he presented and made well known the artistic current of the Impressionists. 

Precisely, the critic held the lectures at the premises of the Philological Circle of Livorno, where, also thanks to a short essay, he spoke to the public with the intention of making well known both Camille Pissarro and Degas, Manet and other Impressionists who were becoming more and more popular in France. During these lectures Martelli explained to those who were present that Impressionism did not only represent a revolution of thought, but also a real physiological revolution in the human eye, a completely new theory, which undoubtedly was also the first official recognition of Impressionism in Italy. In fact, following Diego Martelli's precious contribution, both the public and the critics took a totally different attitude towards Impressionism, welcoming works and artists belonging to this artistic current with more openness and enthusiasm.

Article by: Aurora Caraman

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