The Italian Presence in American Art, 1760-1860

By Irma B. Jaffe | Go to book overview

After the Macchiaioli dispersed, each artist in the group was subsequently studied as an individual. It is only during the last forty years that the Macchiaioli have been studied as a movement, and their common traits recognized. During the last ten years, thanks to the efforts of such art historians as Dario Durbé, the founder of the Archivio del Macchiaioli, their works were catalogued and exhibited in Munich in 1978, and later in Paris and England. It then became apparent that these Macchiaioli, painting about ten or fifteen years before the French Impressionists, were members of an original movement completely apart from the French. 13 Now it is recognized that this Italian movement was part of a great European one, and it has been affirmed that there are few relevant artists of the second half of the nineteenth century who did not pass through the Caffè Michelangelo. Although Vedder's name is never mentioned in conjunction with the Macchiaioli, the more we learn about this movement, the more I am convinced of Vedder's place in it.

In conclusion, we return to Vedder's remark to the young artists of the American Academy in Rome, in regard to the value of an impressionistic fast sketch which a painter can reasonably hope to learn to do, and '"the other way"' which, Vedder maintained, "'is far beyond what you will ever get."' This is of course the Macchiaioli attitude, which Norma Broude examines in her chapter "Sketch versus Finished Picture, The Eternal Question." 14 Vedder and his colleagues maintained that one should paint from nature and then bring home the sketch and work on it, perhaps, for years, doing the study on the spot and the finished picture in the studio. In the twentieth century the immediacy of the sketch has been far more attractive to us than the finished picture. We detect in the on-the-spot sketch, drawing, oil, or pastel a glimpse of truth, which may be lost in the finished work. Still, now that the brilliant craftsmanship, the splendid technique of the nineteenth century, is being admired, the question arises once more. Vedder used to say "first you have an idea, and then from your experience and the nature about you, you get the material to clothe it."15 He held that concept and style should spring entirely from the subject. This principle served him admirably in his immense production from decorative arts to visionary paintings, to murals and sculpture. As for his landscapes, which he did until his death, taking out of his pocket diminutive pieces of green or gray paper and a few pastels, looking at them today, we find his soul expressed in them.

In his old age, Vedder would write, "Happy days! How happy are those first days of the artist's life, passed in some solitary spot, with no thought of exhibitions or sales or ambition, painting from the pure love of it and the delight in Nature. . . . Such work Costa used to say, was religion."16


NOTES
1.
J. C. Taylor, "Perceptions and Digressions," Perceptions and Evocations: The Art of Elihu Vedder, Washington, D.C., 1979, 51.
2.
A. Frankenstein, "Old Castles and Empty Tracks," San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, April 23, 1967.
3.
Travelers in Arcadia: American Artists in Italy, 1830-1875, edd. E. P. Richardson and O. Wittman Jr. , Exhibition Catalogue, The Detroit Institute of Arts and The Toledo Museum of Art, 1951, 61.
4.
J. C. Van Dyke, Elihu Vedder, Exhibition Catalogue, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 1937, 24-25.
5.
N. Broude, The Macchiaioli: Italian Painters of the Nineteenth Century, New Haven, Conn., and Lon

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