Afternoon in the Alps by Giovanni Segantini

Afternoon in the Alps by Giovanni Segantini (1893)

Giovanni Segantini was born in 1858 in Arco in the autonomous province of Trentino, Italy.  He had a troubled upbringing with his mother dying when he was just five years old and two years later he was abandoned by his father.  He was a delicate but imaginative child who was influenced by his early surroundings.  As an orphan he was brought up in a reform school where he was taught the trade of a cobbler.   He remained at the institution until the age of  fifteen.  He also spent some of his early childhood herding sheep in the high Alpine pastureland and whilst there he started sketching his surrounding areas.  After a nomadic lifestyle in and around the Arco area he spent some time working for his step-brother in his grocery store.  In 1874, after he had accumulated a little money he travelled to Milan where he settled down and attended art classes at the Brera.  After some time he was able to earn a living by teaching art and selling some of his own portraiture.  He met and married Luigia Bugatti in 1877 and the couple had four children.

His first painting was entitled The Choir of Sant Antonio and it was commended by local art lovers for its authoritative quality. The family moved to Pusiano, Brianza, an area in the foothills of the Italian Alps in 1880.  He was now back in an area geographically similar to his birthplace.  He was happy here and settled down to studying the surrounding area and painting life in the mountains.  In 1886 he left his family and went to live in Savognin in the Swiss canton of Graubünden where he remained until 1894.  He died of peritonitis in 1889 at the age of 31 at Schafberg near Pontresina whilst completing his last work of art entitled Alpentriptychon.

My Daily Art Display today is Seganti’s painting entitled Afternoon in the Alps, an oil on canvas work he completed in 1893.   The painting depicts a shepherdess with her flock of sheep in a high Alpine pasture.  She leans her back against a misshapen and gnarled tree trunk, her straw bonnet tilted forward to protect her eyes from the strong mountain sunlight.  We cannot see her eyes, which may be closed as she takes a well-earned nap.  In one hand she grasps her herding stick whilst the fingers of the other hand lay limply downwards encouraging one of her flock to believe it may be holding a morsel of food.  The rest of the flock search furiously for what little vegetation is on offer.  Note how almost every blade of grass of this pasture has been painted separately.  It is not the lush green grass of a clover-filled lowland meadow that would have been found further down the mountain but a more yellowy, burnt scrubland interspersed with rocks an area which, in winter, would be permanently covered with snow and during summer months is open to the burning effects of the sun.