Abbati was born in Naples and received early training in painting from his brother Vincenzo. He participated in Garibaldi 1860 campaign, suffering the loss of his right eye at the Battle of Capua. Afterwards he moved to Florence where, at the Caffe Michelangiolo, he met Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, and the rest of the artists who would soon be dubbed the Macchiaioli.
While his early paintings were interiors, he quickly became attracted to the practice of painting landscapes en plein air. His activity as a painter was interrupted during 1866 when he enlisted again in the army for the Third Independence War, during which he was captured by the Austrians and held in Croatia.
Returning to civilian life at the end of the year, he moved to Castelnuovo della Misericordia and spent the final year of his life painting in the countryside. Abbati died at the age of thirty-two in Florence after his own dog bit him, infecting him with rabies.
Giuseppe Abbati, The Tower of the Palazzo del Podesta, 1865, oil on wood, 39 x 32 cm.His paintings are characterized by a bold treatment of light effects. He often painted a luminous landscape scene as seen through the doorway of a darkened interior, as in the View from the Wine Cellar of Diego Martelli (1866). Some of his late landscapes are in the greatly elongated horizontal format often favored by the Macchiaioli.