The painter Giovanni Segantini had an impoverished and joyless childhood. He barely turned eight before both his parents died. For a while he lived with relatives in Milan, then he was sent to a community home. That was where a teacher first recognized and encouraged his talent. Yet it was only with great difficulty that Segantini managed to train as a painter. He did receive recognition and encouragement as a young artist in Milan. But it wasn’t until he moved to the mountainous region of Graubünden in Switzerland in 1886, then to Engadin in 1894, that he discovered the subjects that were closest to his heart. From that time onwards he devoted himself, far from the city, to the basic rhythms of the life of mountain folks, their animals and the magnificent mountains.
The painting you see here, Alpine Pasture, is Segantinis last monumental high alpine scene from his time in the Savognin region of Graubünden. To capture this lake he hiked for several hours each day, nevertheless he hasn’t nearly copied nature in this painting, in fact you will not find this vast space, the broad landscape or the mountain range if you visit this spot. Segantini however combines all these elements in a majestic almost cosmic view of the world. Fractures of light and shadow emphasize the horizontal format of the composition. A mountain crest bathed in sunlight runs along the entire width and conveys the impression of infinity – and at the same time the insignificance of human beings. The harshness and rigors of nature are reflected in the figure of the exhausted young shepherd, vibrating heath spreads over animals and vegetation. Segantini achieved the sensuous impression with his own painterly technique, which he evolved under the influence of the divisionist theories. In this late impressionist method the palette is restricted to basic colours. Or divided into complementary contrasting colours and the paint is applied as dots. The desired colour effect only occurs when the picture is viewed from the distance. The long threads of pure colour which Segantini combined, give the motive a sensuous materiality. The addition of gold and silver, for instance in the hair of the shepherd boy, heightens the impression of crystalline light in the thin air.