The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Giuseppe de Nittis, 1846-1884

Nationality: Italian
Date of Birth: 1846.02.22
Place of Birth: Barletta
Date of Death: 1884.08.24
Place of Death: Saint Germain-en-Laye, Seine et Oise


Giuseppe de Nittis was a painter and etcher. He was the grandchild of an architect. He had a brother, Vincenzo De Nittis. His wife Leontine Gruvelle was an ambitious writer, and often modelled for him.


De Nittis studied in Barletta under Giovanni Battista Calò, and possibly briefly under Vincenzo Dattoli in Naples, as well as at the Istituto di Belle Arti di Napoli. He also attended Mancinelli's evening life classes. Influenced by Adriano Cecioni, in 1863 De Nittis formed the Scuola di Resina with Marco De Gregorio and Federico Rossano, a group which sought to approach nature with a new directness. De Nittis was particularly interested in capturing changing light and atmospheric conditions, and in making studies of clouds.

In Paris in 1867 De Nittis met Jean-Léon Gérôme and Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier and the following year he made the city his permanent home. From 1869-70 he painted popular genre scenes in Rococo dress in the manner of Meissonier, but he also continued to paint landscapes and contemporary subjects. In 1873, probably inspired by Marcellin Desboutin and Edgar Degas, he experimented with etching, drypoint and lithography.

In the 1870s De Nittis painted many views of modern day Paris, showing elegant women riding or walking with children and dogs, e.g. How Cold it Is! (1874; Private Collection, Milan). In this year, at the invitation of Degas, De Nittis contributed to the First Impressionist Exhibition.

He also painted views of London, e.g. Piccadilly (1875; Valdagno, G. Marzotto private collection, see exhibition catalogue, 1990, p. 111) for the banker Kaye Knowles.

His works, like those of JW, whom he admired, show an awareness of photography and Japanese prints. In London, he became friendly with James Tissot and became known for his Saturday soirées, which were attended by notable figures in the artistic and literary world. He was a member of the Arts Club in London from 1876 to 1878, and between 1880 and 1883 he exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery and at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts.

In 1875 De Nittis began to use pastel and, like JW, played a major role in reviving interest in the medium. In 1881 a major exhibition of his pastels was held at the Cercle des Mirlitons in Paris. He also turned to watercolour painting. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878, at which he showed his Whistlerian Westminster (1878; Private Collection, Valdagno), De Nittis was awarded a gold medal and later received the Légion d'honneur.

In 1882, with the gallery owner Georges Petit and the painters Raimundo Madrazo y Garreta and Alfred Stevens, De Nittis founded the Exposition Internationale de Peinture on the Rue du Seze in Paris. In 1883 JW expressed a desire to participate in the exhibition (#09639). In this year, JW, who himself was anxious to obtain the Légion d'honneur, attempted to get de Nittis, Stevens and Garreta on side (#05606).


De Nittis, Giuseppe, Notes et souvenirs du peintre Joseph de Nittis, ed. L. Gruvelle, Paris, 1895; Cecchi, E. (ed.), Notes et souvenirs: Diario, 1870-1884, Fasano di Puglia, 1990; Johnson, J., and A. Gruetzner, Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Woodbridge, 1980; Piceni, E., Three Italian Friends of the Impressionists: Boldini, De Nittis, Zandomeneghi, New York, 1984; Calingaert, Efrem Gisella, 'Giuseppe De Nittis', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 12 February 2003).