Radical Light: Italy’s Divisionist Painters

Lucy Riall explores the social and political issues in Italy following the country’s unification. She shows how these issues became the focus for a dynamic new artistic movement of the 1890s, Divisionism, a forerunner to Futurism and the subject of a current exhibition at the National Gallery.

Enthusiasm for Italian art is nothing new but until quite recently the art of the ‘Ottocento’ (1800s) was either ignored or forgotten: seen as a symptom of Italy’s cultural decline since the glories of the Renaissance or as merely derivative of the artistic innovations taking place elsewhere.

Like so much else about the nineteenth century, this dismissive attitude now seems outdated. A re-evaluation of Italian art in the decades following the Risorgimento has led to the rediscovery of a whole series of avant-garde movements – the Macchiaioli (‘sketchers’), the Scapigliatura (‘dishevelled’) and last, but by no means least, from the 1890s, the Divisionisti or Divisionists.

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