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Monday, February 27, 2017

Giuseppe De Nittis

Breakfast in the Garden, 1883,  Giuseppe De Nittis
Transitions are always difficult. Even at best they are periods of relatively rapid changes, over varying lengths of time. We in the United States are daily watching the transition from a relatively stable, slightly left of center government to a relatively unstable, (way) right of center government the likes of which this nation, and likely most others, have never seen before. We watch with a mixture of bemusement and dread as a new president tries to grow with the job. Whether he has, or is, seems debatable. What is not debatable is the agonizing growing pains he and we are enduring as this transition takes shape on Twitter and in the mainstream media. Echoing Bette Davis's famous line from All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy ride."
Westminster, 1878, Giuseppe De Nittis
Art and artist sometimes find themselves in periods of Transition. During the 1940s and 50s in the U.S., Abstract Expressionism triggered such a transition. Impressionism did the same in France during the 1860s and 70s. During the turbulent first few decades of the 20th century artists in Europe (mostly France and Germany) went through a painful art transition. When we contemplate the life and works of the Italian painter Giuseppe De Nittis, we find ourselves adding Italy to that list. The only difference was that France, Germany, and to a lesser extent, England, had been going through such stylistic transition periods for at least a generation or two. In Italy, until the early 1900s, not much had changed as to the prevailing style of painting since the Renaissance some four-hundred years earlier.
The drawn portrait of De Nittis just above is by an
unknown artist with the initials H.T.
De Nittis had been born in 1846. He was born in Barletta, on the western coast of southern Italy (on the ankle of the Italian "boot," so to speak). He first began studying art at the Academy of Fine Art in Naples during the mid-1860s but soon got kicked out for insubordination. A year later he had some success with two paintings at the 1864 Neapolitan Promotrice (the approximate equivalence to the Paris Salon). Art history doesn't record which two paintings. In any case, an exhibit of his work in Florence caused him to fall in with the mildly rebellious Macchiaioli gang. The problem was, De Nittis had been brought up in the longstanding classical traditions of Italian academic painters only to discover he was not much into academics, nor academic art. And in any case, such art, was becoming decidedly old-fashioned, even in culturally rich Italy. De Nittis was caught in the painful transition from classical art to Modern Art. It was a "bumpy ride."
At the Races at Longchamp, Giuseppe De Nittis.
I'm not sure what the ladies are gaining by climbing precariously up onto chairs
In 1867 De Nittis bailed out. He said goodbye to his politically and artistically turbulent homeland and moved to Paris. There, he found a city where change was just as controversial as back home, but much more vibrant, becoming the life's blood of the French art world. Though the Impressionist were still battling with the Academics, enlightened art dealers such as Adolphe Goupil were welcoming competent, but unknown painting rebels such as De Nittis with open arms (and wallets). The two made a deal which called for De Nittis to produce saleable genre works (Not exactly cutting-edge or avant-garde.) After gaining some visibility by exhibiting at the Salon he returned to Italy where, he now felt free to paint from nature. He produced several stunning views of Vesuvius, which was erupting at the time.
The Opera, Giuseppe De Nittis. Notice the young boys off to
the left peeking through the door, spying on the adults.
When De Nittis returned to Paris in 1872, he was no longer bound to Adolphe Goupil and his clientele demanding familiar family scenes. This time he fell in with the budding, struggling group of Impressionists as a result of his friendship with Edgar Degas. Although he was not accepted immediately, by 1874 De Nittis was regularly displaying with them. A trip to London in 1875 resulted in a number of Impressionist works. His star was rising, his home in Paris was a favorite gathering place for Parisian writers and artists, as well as expatriate Italians, he executed pastel portraits of sitters including De Goncourt, Zola, Manet and Duranty. De Nittis exhibited twelve paintings in The Exposition Universelle of 1878, and was awarded a gold medal. Today, we'd probably be more familiar with his name, perhaps ranking him alongside the great Impressionists of his day except for the fact that he suffered a sudden stroke and died in 1884 at the age of thirty-eight. Nonetheless, De Nittis' works can be found in many public collections, including the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, British Museum in London, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The Races at Longchamps from the Grandstand,
Giuseppe De Nittis--one of his favorite subjects.

Study of a Cat, watercolor, Giuseppe De Nittis

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