AT THE SEASIDE WITH GIOVANNI FATTORI AND SILVESTRO LEGA
It is scorching hot, it's almost noon and the sun shines mightily on the rocks. The seawater pool, which fills up when the wind blows and the waves are high, is now boiling. In the background the Leghorn sea is flat, without a single ripple or a single white crest. Silvestro Lega is concentrated, his eyes gazing into the bay, and then they return, accompanied by the brush, to the painting he's been working on for a few days. How he manages to stay comfortable is a mystery. He must have found his rock, the one sitting there just to welcome his creative imagination. He probably took a lot of time to find it, moving gracefully from one rock to the next. Then he took his beach umbrella, stuck it firmly into a crack, and sat down to take out his panel, palette and brush.
Fattori, the author of this painting, must have done the same. Like his friend Lega, he too must have gone looking for a rock and sat down, shielded from the blazing sun, in the same position, brush and palette in hand, the panel on his lap. But he decided to paint another landscape, not the bay, but the cliffs that rise over the open sea, and at their centre a single element, the image of his friend. Looking closely, his is a landscape within a landscape: the cliff slowly emerges from Lega's brush strokes, surrounded by the real cliff, the one he can see with his very eyes. This intricate play of different views must have fascinated him, maybe because in the pose of his friend he saw himself.
Both decided to leave their studios to paint outdoors. They needed to see the subject directly, with the eyes of true experience and not just through imagination. The grand gestures of heroes and great fiction did not stir their interest, they preferred to depict everyday life, made of ordinary landscapes and small gestures that would have been forgotten without their paintings. This thirst for reality is so strong that Fattori expresses it even in the way he paints. When questioned about how he sees things, how we perceive the world, he answers by painting without edges, entrusting the whole intensity of the pictorial narrative to patches of colour. The result is a vibrant composition, made particularly effective by the contrast between the landscape hues, Lega's black silhouette and the glaring white of the beach umbrella.
It is very hot, not just because it's noon and the sun is beating hard on the rocks, but also because Lega is fully clothed, hat and all. Clearly this scene belongs to another time, the time of flawless elegance, even on the hottest summer days. The beach umbrella is the key to the painter's sense of calm. Wide open, it protects his concentration. If Lega were alive today, maybe he wouldn't have dared to venture onto those rocks. He'd rather have stayed comfortably on his terrace, where he had room for his easel and time to sip away on his drink, possibly in the shade of a Corradi sun sail.