Federico Zanomeneghi was born in Venice on 2 June 1841 to the sculptor, Pietro, and his wife, Teresa Spertini.
In 1856, he began at the local Accademia di Belle Arti where he took classes in ornamental design, architecture, perspective and figuration, given by Callisto Zanotti, Francesco Carlo Astori, Federico Moja, and Michelangelo Grigoletti respectively. Troubled by the political climate in Venice at the time, Zandomeneghi moved to Milan in 1859 and began classes in painting at the Accademia di Brera. After participating in the ‘Expedition of the Thousand’ in Sicily, from 1862 he lived in Florence, where he befriended some of the members of the ‘Macchiaioli group’: Giuseppe Abbati, Vincenzo Cabianca, Giovanni Fattori, and Telemaco Signorini. Zandomeneghi’s painting of this period is influenced by lessons learnt with the Macchiaiola, with works such as The Lovers from 1866 (private collection) and Portrait of Diego Martelli from 1870 (Florence, Palazzo Pitti Gallery of Modern Art). Incisive both in their composition and psychological analysis; the use of simplified forms, accentuating the impact of the painterly mark, fuses with a delicate tonality of Venetian origin that tempers the contrasting brighter Florentine elements in a far softer layer of painting. Important also is the painting Ship at port (1869; Florence, Palazzo Pitti Gallery of Modern Art), executed in Venice during a lagoon-side walk with the painter, Domenico Bresolin. Zandomeneghi’s knowledge of Michele Cammarano’s painting is seen in his own choice of themes of everyday life and the composition of his figures, like Before the Procession (c. 1868; private collection) and the well-known The poor on the steps of the Aracoeli in Rome (1872; Milan, Civic Gallery of Modern Art). In 1874 he travelled to Paris to visit the Universal Exhibition. The allure of the French capital was so great that he decided to live in the city for the rest of his life. He also maintained a relationship with contacts in Italy, and his friendship with Diego Martelli grew richer, as shown through their lively exchange of letters. Almost immediately, he grew closer to the Impressionists. In 1878 he met the gallery owner and Parisian art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel and began to exhibit at the Impressionist exhibitions with the help of his friend, Degas. Zandomeneghi shied from the group’s ideological ornamentation in favour of an individual search that privileged the restoration of the form, in a process also employed by Renoir in his later works.
In 1886, after the first neoimpressionist exhibition, he experimented – despite some misgivings- with the method based on the division of colours. In his works executed between 1890 and 1905, Zandomeneghi employed a technique using strands of colour, even attaining his own personal kind of ‘Divisionism’. His preference for pastel allowed him to veil chromatic contrasts, acquiring a suffuse luminosity in works like Femme qui s’étire (1896, Mantova, Civic Museum of Palazzo Tè) and Femme au corset (1900; Milan, Civic Gallery of Modern Art). In 1893, Durand-Ruelorganised an exhibition dedicated to the artist at his own gallery – with another held in 1898 – and began to promote the artist’s works in London and the United States. With the start of a new century, the requests of dealers increased to such an extent that requests were made for the artist to replicate some works several times in both oil and pastel, depicting scenes of modern life in Paris and intimate studies of women.
In 1914, the critic, Vittorio Pila, dedicated a solo exhibition to Zandomeneghi at the Venice Biennale; he was not popular with Italian critics who did not understand the modernity of his painting. Instead, his art garnered the applause of international collectors.
Zandomeneghi died in Paris on 31 December 1917.