Fausto Zonaro, the son of a carpenter who immediately realised his aptitude for art, was soon enrolled at the Technical Institute of Lendinara, where he received his first notions of drawing and was noticed by Federico Cordenons, who encouraged him to attend the Academy. He quickly moved from the province of Padua to Verona, where he went to the Cignaroli Academy and studied under Napoleone Nani, where he approached realism.
After spending some time in Venice, he moved to Naples in 1878 to perfect his skills and in the meantime produced numerous works inspired by Neapolitan verismo, which sold easily but did not allow him to earn a living.
The genre scenes, between witty anecdote and impeccable technique
In 1883 he exhibited A “lazzaro”of Naples and Le sartine of Turin, works that indicated his immersion in Neapolitan everyday life and the complete acquisition of a pictorial mode that brought him close to the curious anecdote, all painted with faithful respect for reality.
In the same year he also exhibited in Genoa, Florence and Rome, where he sent Pass the Cow, The Neapolitan Seamstresses, The Suffering Woman and The Soapmaker, a work that reveals his taste for sketches inspired by an episode taken from reality but described with a witty verve. The technique, minute and detailed, on the other hand, derives entirely from Nani’s Venetian lesson.
At the 1887 Venice Exhibition he sent a series of works characterised by the same chromatic and anecdotal acuity: Worker of Pearls, The Redeemer, The Town Crier, Waiting, The Crushers, all subjects taken from everyday life.
A great traveller and a painter constantly in search of new motifs, he moved to Paris for a period, where he updated his style to post-impressionist colour and light. It was at this time that the artist’s true maturation took place: he had arrived at a personal language, imbued with details from the Venetian tradition, a taste for witty anecdotes, Neapolitan realism and Impressionist looseness.
Orientalism: Zonaro as court painter in Constantinople
Thanks to reading Constantinople by Edmondo De Amicis, he was attracted by the idea of moving to the East with his wife Elisa. At the end of the 1980s, they found themselves in Istanbul and stayed in the Pera district, where Elisa gave painting lessons and created a dense network of acquaintances for Zonaro.
Zonaro immediately became a great interpreter of Orientalist motifs, which he immortalised in small paintings to sell to tourists. His success came very quickly, as he was soon noticed by court officials. In 1891 the opportunity that Fausto Zonaro had been waiting for finally arrived: Sultan Abdul Hamid appointed him court painter.
In addition to the official paintings for the sultan, celebrating Constantinople’s history under Islamic rule, Zonaro produced numerous impressions from life. These include odalisques and dervishes, views of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn in oil and watercolour, including The Screaming Dervis, Turkish Bath, Prayer, Flowering Shores of the Bosphorus, Barbers in the Open Air and On the Galata Bridge.
Shortly before the revolution and his return to Italy, Zonaro had won the Sultan’s trust so much that he was finally able to portray him. The Sultan then stripped the painter of his commission and sent him back to Italy in 1910, where he first settled in Rome and then in San Remo. Alongside the evocative exotic landscapes, he painted beautiful views of the Ligurian Riviera and the French coast, seascapes that convey all his maturity and luministic skill.