Giovanni Segantini Italy
1-15-1858 Arco, AUT - 9-28-1899 Pontresina, SUIBack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
Giovanni Segantini was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the first seven years of his life his father, traveled extensively while looking for work. Segantini spent his early years with his mother, who experienced severe depression due to the death of his brother. These years were marked by poverty, hunger and limited education due to his mother's inability to cope.
In the spring of 1865 his mother died. His father left Giovanni Segantini under the care of Irene, his second child from a previous marriage, and again traveled in search of work. He died a year later without returning home and leaving his family nothing. Without money from her father, Irene lived in extreme poverty. She was forced to spend most of her time working menial jobs while leaving Giovanni to subsist on his own.
Irene hoped to improve her life by moving to Milan, and in late 1865 she submitted an application to relinquish Austrian citizenship for both her brother and her. Although their Austrian citizenship was revoked she neglected to apply for Italian citizenship. As a result, both Segantini and his sister remained stateless for the rest of their lives.
At age seven Giovanni Segantini ran away and was later found living on the streets of Milan. For much of his early life he could barely read or write; he finally learned both skills when he was in his mid-30s. Fortunately a chaplain at the reformatory noticed that he could draw quite well, and he encouraged this talent in an attempt to lift his self-esteem.
The following year he returned to Milan and attended classes at the Brera Academy. Among his closest friends at the time were Carlo Bugatti and Emilio Longoni, both of whom profoundly influenced his work and his interests.
His first major painting, The Chancel of Sant Antonio (Il Coro di Sant'Antonio), was noticed for its powerful quality, and in 1879 it was acquired by Milan's Società per le Belle Arti. That work attracted the attention of painter and gallery owner Vittore Grubicy, who became his adviser, dealer and his life-long financial supporter.
That same year he met Bugatti's sister, Luigia Pierina Bugatti, known as "Bice", and they began a life-long romance. Although Segantini tried to marry Bice the next year, due to his stateless status he could not be granted the proper legal papers. In opposition to this bureaucratic technicality, they decided to live together as an unmarried couple.
In 1880 he and Bice moved to the village of Carella. It was in this mountain scenery that Segantini began to paint en plein air. While he worked outside Bice would read to him, and eventually he learned to read and write.
At this time Giovanni Segantini painted the first version of Ave Maria, which took a gold medal at the 1883 World's Fair in Amsterdam. As his fame rose, Segantini entered into a formal agreement with the Grubicys to be the sole representatives of his work. While this allowed Segantini more freedom to pursue his artistry, the dealers were consistently slow in fulfilling their financial obligations to the artists. The family struggled for many years in relative poverty, even as Bice gave birth to four children.
At the 1890 Salon des XX in Brussels, Giovanni Segantini was given an entire exhibition room, an honor awarded such greats as Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh. While his fame had increased throughout Europe, he was never able to attend international shows because he could not obtain a passport due to his stateless status.
At the first Venice Biennale in 1895, Segantini was awarded the Prize of the Italian State for his painting Return to the Homeland. He continued to gain fame when a whole room was devoted to his work in the Munich Secession in 1896. Museums throughout Europe vied to buy his paintings, including The Comfort of Faith, and The Bad Mothers, bought by the Vienna Secession.
More than anything else, Giovanni Segantini's work represents the quintessential transition from traditional nineteenth-century art to the changing styles and interests of the twentieth century.
Art Movement: Symbolsim Art
Influences: Anton Mauve, Jean-François Millet, Carlo Bugatti, Emilio Longoni
Traveled: Switzerland, Italy