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GIUSEPPE DE NITTIS
De Nittis, who represents a concrete link between the Italian and French plein-air movements, was born in Barletta, Italy, on 22 February 1846; he began his studies in 1861 at the Institute of Fine Arts in Naples, before coming under the influence of the Macchiaioli, through Adriano Cecioni (1836-1886). His early style, represented by The Appenine Pass (Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte, Naples) features a tendency toward gray tonalities, atmospheric effects with cloudy skies, “views with finesse of details. . . with a sense of innate elegance . . . unpretentious but rarely sparkling subjects. . . . ” (Brizio, 1939, p. 254). In Paris under Gérôme (1867), he turned to themes of modern French society, but ended up showing his works with the so-called group of impressionists in 1874: five works that appear to be lost. Diego Martelli (1839-1896), the Florentine art critic who championed both contemporary movements (the first to defend impressionism in Italy), and whose famous portrait by Degas is in the National Galleries of Scotland (1879), described the soirées at the De Nittis residence in Paris. Upon entering, one noticed a large painting by Monet and other works by Corot, Manet, and Degas. In the drawing room one might encounter Emile Zola, Edmond de Goncourt, and Manet, engaged in a witty conversation. Broude (1987, p. 296) describes the De Nittis home as “a mecca for the Italians who lived in Paris.”
De Nittis yearned for the Légion d’Honneur, thus he decided not to exhibit again with the impressionists, despite how much he may have supported them in theory, and as a collector. De Nittis finally did win the coveted award in 1878, and he was given a solo show in the offices of La Vie Moderne, a weekly journal instituted only months earlier by Georges Charpentier. Two to three thousand visited the exhibition daily. Yet the painter would live only five more years: he passed away at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, outside of Paris, on 24 August 1884.
Once in Paris, De Nittis’s style was transformed by various sources besides early impressionism (namely, Meissonier and Fortuny). Although he showed sympathy for the impressionist aesthetic, De Nittis did not grasp its essentials, and he opted for a superficial application of its characteristics in his society paintings. Races at Auteuil (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome) shows elegantly dressed horse enthusiasts on a balcony, which recalls the compositions of Caillebotte. The figures themselves suggests James Tissot’s influence. Return from the Races, from 1875 (Philadelphia Museum of Art) features a road in the Bois de Boulogne crowded with carriages, flanked by smartly attired Parisians relaxing under sun-dappled trees that reveal the Macchiaioli origins of De Nittis. The painter was important in the history of pastels. He began exhibiting works in that medium in the Salon of 1880 and he emulated Maurice Quentin de la Tour (1704-1788), the great pastel portraitist of the Age of Enlightenment.
De Nittis was influenced by Japonisme and shared the impressionists’ love of Japanese prints. During the last year of his life De Nittis painted Lunch in the Garden (Museo Civico di Barletta), which recalls similar compositions by Manet. The high-keyed palette and glistening silver, glass and porcelain on the table are impressive but the shadows themselves are primarily dark green. Diane Pilgrim (1978) compared the works of De Nittis to American painters, suggesting that he has been overlooked as a solid influence in American art. Specifically, Stebbins (1976, p. 226) suggested that Whistler was influenced by De Nittis.
Huysmans, Joris Karl, “Le Salon officiel en 1880,” La Réforme, 15 May; 1 - 15 June 1880; Lostalot, Alfred de, “Les pastels de M. de Nittis au Cercle de l’Union Artistique,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 24 (1881): 158; Martelli, Diego, Giuseppe De Nittis,” Fieramosca, 13 September 1884; Cook, Clarence, Art and Artists of Our Time. New York: Selmar Hess, 1888, vol. 1, pp. 133-137; Cecioni, Adriano, “Giuseppe De Nittis,” in Scritti e Ricordi. Florence: Tipografia Domenicana, 1894; Pica, Vittorio, Giuseppe De Nittis – L’uomo e l’artista. Milan: Alfieri & Lacroix, 1914; Brizio, Anna Maria, Ottocento, Novecento. Storia Universale dell’Arte Series. Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1939, pp. 252-254; Rewald, John, The History of Impressionism . New York: MOMA, 1973, pp. 313, 318, 366, 404, 431; Piceni, Enrico, De Nittis. Milan: Mondadori, 1955; Pittaluga, Mary Piceni and Piceni, Enrico, De Nittis. Milan: Bramants, 1963; Causa, R., Giuseppe De Nittis. Busto Arsizio, 1975; I Macchiaioli, Exh. cat. Florence: Centro Di, 23 May - 22 July 1976, p. 333; Pilgrim, Diane, “The Revival of Pastels in Nineteenth-century America: The Society of Painters in Pastel,” American Art Journal 10 (November 1978): 47-52; La Femme: The Influence of Whistler and Japanese Print Masters on American Art 1880-1917. Exh. cat. New York: Grand Central Art Galleries, 1983, p. 100; Durbè, Dario, “Introduction,” Three Italian Friends of the Impressionists: Boldini, De Nittis, Zandomenighi. Exh. cat. New York: Stair Sainty Matthiesen, 1984; Broude, Norma, The Macchiaioli: Italian Painters of the Nineteenth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987; Denvir, Bernard, The Thames and Hudson Encyclopedia of Impressionism. London: 1990, pp. 152-153; Dini, P. amd G. L. Marini, De Nittis, la vita, I documenti, le opere, I dipinti. 2 vols. Turin: 1990; Olson, Roberta J.M.., Ottocento: Romanticism and Revolution in 19th-Century Italian Painting. Florence: Centro Di, 1992, cat. nos. 55, 56, 83; Russo, Renato, Giuseppe de Nittis, la vita e le opere, ricordi e testimonianze 1846-1996. Editrice Rotas, 1996; Lamberti, Maria Mimita, Giuseppe De Nittis e la pittura della vita moderna. Turin: Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, 2002.
Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.