Pio Bove (Pious or Peaceful Ox)
Giovanni Fattori (Italian, 1825–1908)
Benaglia 131; Servolini 161; RPK 78.
Platemark: 17.5 x 32.3 cm (6 7/8 x 12 11/16 in.) Sheet: 34.3 x 48.5 cm (13 1/2 x 19 1/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
Etching on zinc plate
Printmaking was primarily an activity Giovanni Fattori’s later years. He was probably more than 80 years old when he etched this scene of an ox resting in a field. Its lonely, contemplative mood reveals little of the stormy lifetime that preceded it. In his youth, Fattori devoured gothic romances and participated in the feverish political resistance to Austrian domination of Tuscany. In his thirties, he achieved public recognition as a painter, winning a government sponsored competition that led to a major commission for a patriotic battle scene. He developed two primary areas of interest: military history and rural subjects.
Fattori’s use of the macchia (daubing) technique of painting, the simplicity of his compositions, and his avoidance of decorative beauty sparked critical debate; yet, he still won major commissions and competitions. When he traveled to see his work exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1875, a visit to the Louvre opened his eyes to the Barbizon painters. About this same time, his luck turned for the worse. His military paintings went out of fashion. He broke his kneecap. The government seized his property for non-payment of taxes. Mounting debts prompted him to raffle off his works. Financial problems dogged him for years. Not surprisingly, he also suffered from depression. Only when he received a teaching appointment at the Accademia, did his situation begin to stabilize.
During his period of adversity, Fattori’s work displayed a harsher realism, attributed in part to his dismay with the political realities of a unified Italy. An 1882 visit to a large, rugged estate brought him new inspiration: he was fascinated by the gritty and often lonely work of the cattlemen and herders. His melancholy ranching scenes expressed his own isolation and bitterness–emotions which also played out publicly in his confrontations with officials overseeing public art purchases.
In 1884, Fattori found a new lease on life when he took up etching. Other artists praised his work, and he pursued it with gusto. The Galleria Nazionale in Rome exhibited and acquired his work. Reforms at the Accademia led to his appointment as the Resident Professor of Drawing in 1888. His financial difficulties returned, but he remained productive and concentrated on his rural views. Though his skill as a painter waned, his etchings retained their power for the remainder of his life. His style did not change with the times; so, what had appeared radical in the 1870s and 80s came to be seen as conservative.
Giovanni Maleschi, Fattori’s assistant and printer in his last years, would later recall that Fattori etched “Pious Ox” in 1907, but there seems to be little certainty about the actual date of many of Fattori’s prints. The title is also uncertain: variants include “Ox” and “Peaceful Ox.” The low viewpoint, which causes us to look up to the horizon, endows the ox and the haystack with monumental significance. The complete absence of activity leaves us with a study mysterious, melancholic study of form, tone, and texture. At the close of a lifetime of disappointment with society, Fattori seems to have found solace in the stark beauty of nature.
Signed lower left in graphite pencil: Gio. Fattori
Hill-Stone (New York); from whom purchased, 20 September 2006.
Fund in memory of Horatio Greenough Curtis