Born in Leghorn, his first teacher was Natale Betti at the Scuola Comunale di Disegno, where he went together with Plinio Nomellini and Angiolo Tommasi. He continued his studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze where, between 1866 and 1871, he studied under Giovanni Fattori who urged him to abandon history painting which he had started with Betti and to try painting from life. He became one of Fattori’s favourite pupils and exhibited at the “Promotrice fiorentina” from 1887 to 1889, making his debut in Milan, Venice and Turin in the years that followed.
However, Alfredo Muller’s new ideas introduced to Florence when he returned from Paris, led him to move away from Fattori’s influence and to enthusiastically follow the door opened by the Impressionista. His two works exhibited at the 1890-91 “Promotrice fiorentina”, “In Coltano” and “Sulla sera” (In the Evening), aroused Fattori’s harsh criticism ranking him as one of Muller’s followers.
In 1889 he moved to Torre de Lago, where in 1891 he made friends with Giacomo Puccini. Together with other young artists from Leghorn and fellow students such as Francesco Fanelli, Raffaello Gambogi, Angiolo and Ludovico Tommasi he founded the “Club della Bohème”, a cultural society influenced by the figure of the great master. It was not only involved in art work but also in organising hunting events and practical jokes. In 1900 Pagni, Nomellini and De Servi were commissioned to decorate the walls of the studio-drawing room of Villa Puccini looking over Lake Massaciuccoli, with frescos depicting the allegorical figures of Dawn, Sunset, Noon and Night, a work that did not survive.
Pagni’s few surviving works show that he mainly concentrated on landscape, usually melancholy, silent views of lakes, and his style and technique show the French influence with hints of a style similar to the art of Lombardy rather than Divisionist Tuscan art. At the beginning of the 20th century Pagni became quite famous and was voted to be a councilor of Viareggio town council and this is how he was able to help the young Lorenzo Viani, by awarding him a monthly grant to study at the Istituto d’Arte di Lucca.
In February 1904, after he had fallen out with Puccini and his bohemian friends, he decided to leave for Argentina where he stayed for thirteen years teaching at an art school he had established at Rosario di Santa Fè. Returning to Italy between 1917 and 18 he settled once more at Torre del Lago and made it up with Puccini and Fanelli. In 1919 he was one of the founders of the “Club Gianni Schicchi” and later of the Zeteti’s Academy with Fanelli, Viani, Moses Levy and Puccini. In 1926 he published the latter’s memoirs. He died at Torre del Lago on 20 November 1935.
Written by: Gioela Massagli – Translated by: Catherine Biggerstaff
© Studio d’Arte dell’800