Telemachus, what is the use of painting?
Telemaco Signorini was born in Florence in 1835.
Life also holds bizarre surprises for us.
We learned, from the biographies of the artists, how many painters had to work hard to become painters: opposed by families and the environment that surrounded them and demanded them as lawyers, workers, everything ... but not painters.
And here is Telemachus, the son of a much appreciated painter in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who wants to devote himself… to classical studies.
In short, you are never happy.
Even reluctantly, thanks to his father's insistence, Telemaco Signorini studies painting. First by following his father's lessons and then enrolling in the Academy of Fine Arts. But the Academy is not for him.
After only a year he abandoned his studies to devote himself to painting "en plein air" and we find him again at just 20 years of age at the Michelangelo coffee house, participating together with the "Macchiaioli" in festive and turbulent meetings.
Now Signorini is convinced that painting is his vocation and begins to travel to know and see everything he can. Venice, Ferrara, the whole of Liguria, Emilia takes its cue from landscapes to better refine its "Macchiaiolo" style.
A critic, criticone.
Back in Florence, his works, as is easy to predict, were rejected by the Academy "for excessive use of chiaroscuro" and Telemachus was definitively labeled as "Macchiajuolo".
In particular, a critic of the time, William Stella, writes a critique demolishing Signorini's works and technique altogether, concluding: "Art's mission is to cheer up, soften and produce pleasant impressions".
And what's pleasant, for example, in a picture like the towpath where the enormous effort of an inhuman job is highlighted, while a little further on a "wealthy" young man, complete with a hat and a dog in tow, enjoying the day?
The purpose of art for Telemachus
Signorini, on the other hand, appreciated Proudhon's writings such as: "The principle of art and its social purpose" and affirms that the purpose of art should be utility (the idea of "reconciling art with the right and the useful ") and that, to achieve this goal, content should prevail over form.
For Signorini, therefore, painting is only a means to affirm its role of communication and social denunciation.
Art, for Telemachus, is "an idealistic representation of nature and of ourselves, in view of the physical and moral improvement of our species".
Landscapes and military paintings are, on the other hand, appreciated and allow Signorini to finance his social denunciation “via painting”.
Florence - Paris - Florence
In recent years, Telemaco Signorini has traveled assiduously to Paris, where he comes into contact with all the major protagonists of impressionism. It certainly undergoes their influence and Telemachus worked hard for a new definition of his painting.
By placing the pictorial action as a simple "means" for an end of denunciation, Signorini creates the problem of justifying his own paintings of the type: "Porta Adriana in Ravenna" and "Rain of summer in Settignano".
Signorini died in 1901 and, perhaps, without being able to fully answer the question: "... what is the use of painting?"