Giovanni Fattori (September 6, 1825 – August 30, 1908) was an Italian artist, one of the leaders of the group known as the Macchiaioli. Fattori was born in modest circumstances in Livorno. His early education was rudimentary and his family initially planned for him to study for a qualification in commerce, but his skill in drawing persuaded them to apprentice him in 1845 to a local painter, Giuseppe Baldini. The following year he moved to Firenze where he studied under Giuseppe Bezzuoli. Fattori's development to maturity as a painter was unusually slow. Few examples of his early work survive; those that do are mainly portraits and sketches, as well as a few historical scenes influenced by Bezzuoli — often scenes from Medieval or Renaissance history.
In the early 1850s Fattori began frequenting the Caffè Michelangiolo on via Larga, a popular gathering place for artists who carried on lively discussions of art and politics. Several of these artists would discover the work of the painters of the Barbizon school while visiting Paris for the Exposition of 1855, and would bring back to Italy an enthusiasm for the then-novel practice of painting outdoors, directly from nature. In 1859 Fattori met Roman landscape painter Giovanni Costa, whose example influenced him to join his colleagues in taking up painting en plein air, thus marking a turning point in Fattori's development. The group of painters to which Fattori belonged became known as the Macchiaioli. Their methods and aims are somewhat similar to those of the Impressionists, and, like their French counterparts, they were criticized for their paintings' lack of conventional finish. The Macchiaioli did not go as far as the Impressionists did in dissolving form in light, however, and when Fattori visited Paris in 1875 he reacted unenthusiastically to Impressionist works, expressing a preference for the artists of the Barbizon school. Military subjects dominate Fattori's output, although he also painted portraits, landscapes, and horses. His painted sketches made outdoors are typically painted on small wood panels; these were used as reference material in painting larger compositions, such as his Branding of the Colts in the Maremma (1887). He produced a significant number of etchings as well, particularly in his later years.
From 1869 he taught at the Florentine Academy, where one of his late students was Amedeo Modigliani. Despite the modest income this work provided, he lived in poverty, and his old age was marked by a bitter disillusionment with the social and political order that had emerged in postunification Italy. Known for his honesty and candor, Fattori also deplored the direction he saw some of his students taking in the 1890s, as a group of them, led by Plinio Nomellini, adopted a Neo-impressionist style. He died in Florence on August 30, 1908.