De Nittis


An exhibition of 120 masterpieces by one of Europe’s undisputed nineteenth-century maestros: some of them unknown to the critics, others that left Italy many years ago.

From 19 January to 26 May 2013, Palazzo Zabarella in Padua is to host an exceptional event devoted to the artist Giuseppe De Nittis (1846-1884).

120 masterpieces on loan from the most prestigious museums and public collections in Italy and France will be on view in the most important exhibition ever organised about one of the undisputed maestros of nineteenth-century European painting.
Curated by Emanuela Angiuli and Fernando Mazzocca, the event organised by the Bano Foundation of Padua and the Antonveneta Foundation constitutes a further stage in the ten-year programme of exhibitions about nineteenth-century Italian art whose previous milestones have included Hayez, Boldini, Signorini, the Macchiaioli painters and Symbolism in Italy, among others.

For Federico Bano, President of the Foundation, this exhibition “is another great opportunity to inform the public at large about the latest results of historical and critical research into how Italy in the nineteenth century fit into its international context”.

Building on the evidence that emerged from the event reserved to the artist by the Petit Palais in Paris at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, this exhibition will turn over a new leaf in the studies and international attention devoted to the painter from Apulia, in part by recuperating several works that were not shown in Paris, some of which were still unknown to the critics, while others left Italy many years ago, including the ones that number among the cycle of views of London.

The works on show are being loaned by some of the leading museums of France, including the Petit Palais and the Carnavalet Museum in Paris and the Museum of Fine Arts in Rheims, and by Italy’s most important museums and public galleries: in addition to the De Nittis Gallery in Barletta, home to the unique collection of paintings left in the artist’s studio after his early death, the list of lenders also includes the C. Giaquinto Provincial Painting Gallery in Bari, the Palazzo Pitti Gallery of Modern Art in Florence, the Frugone Collection in Genoa, the Milan Gallery of Modern Art, the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, the Ricci Oddi Gallery of Modern Art in Piacenza, the Revoltella Civic Museum – Gallery of Modern Art in Trieste and the International Gallery of Modern Art at Ca’ Pesaro in Venice. A significant contribution has also been made by several prestigious collections, longstanding collectors of De Nittis, which are loaning the lesser-known works, absolute masterpieces made accessible to the general public especially for this occasion.

The international stature enjoyed by De Nittis – together with Boldini the greatest of the Italiens de Paris – is due to the fact that he succeeded in bearing comparison with Manet, Degas and the Impressionists, with whom he shared not a language of painting, but the aspiration to revolutionise the very idea of painting itself, once and for all derailing the hierarchy of established genres and heading towards the independence of art that is a founding principle of modernity. He also tackled the same issues as his French peers: landscape, portraiture and modern life, captured in De Nittis’ case in the streets of the two great cities that were the world capitals of art and cosmopolitanism in his day: Paris and London.

Arranged in chronological sections, the exhibition will also feature a closer look at the period when De Nittis underwent his training, which in his case was in Naples. It was here that he found himself identifying with nature, transposing onto his canvas what he called “atmosphere”, whose character changed as the seasons matured and the hours of the day passed by. As the artist himself wrote in his Taccuino, or book of memoires: “I was sometimes happy to get caught in an unexpected rainstorm. Because, believe me, I know the atmosphere very well and I’ve painted it many times. I know all its colours and all the most intimate secrets of the nature of the air and the sky”.
It is to a period he spent in Naples, where he often returned after moving to Paris, that we can date the views of Vesuvius, mostly on small boards or canvases, that together make up a unique reportage of painting, executed with almost photographic concern with detail, that knows no parallel in contemporary Italian painting.

The exhibition will highlight the unique, unmistakeable style of an artist who was so much more capable than almost all his contemporaries of reflecting the spirit of his age, which he captured from the exceptionally favourable vantage point of Paris in the period whens the Second Empire was drawing to a close and the Third Republic was embarking on a new fin-de-siècle high society.
The Paris and the London we find depicted by De Nittis are radically different from the ones familiar to us from other painters of the day. Between 1864 and 1884, the artist painted a series of masterpieces, on show in Padua, depicting locations identifiable with the legend of modernity. What De Nittis consistently managed to capture in the extraordinary adventure of his painting career was the motifs both of nature painted en plein air – from the countryside of Apulia or the slopes of Mount Vesuvius to the banks of the Seine and the Thames – and of life as it bustled busily along the Parisian boulevards or enjoyed leisure in the city’s parks or the preserves of high society, such as the racecourse or the celebrated salon kept by Princess Mathilde Bonaparte.

Furnishing a detailed reconstruction of the artist’s critical fortunes, based on such exceptional evidence as De Nittis’ own memories and his friend Edmond de Goncourt’s celebrated Journal, the exhibition catalogue – published by Marsilio – sets out to explain the reasons for his success in the international art market and among major collectors, but also on the scene of the exclusive high society that responded to his charm as a host and to his ability to entertain, by making his Parisian home a rendezvous for artists and intellectuals of the calibre of Zola, Oscar Wilde, Daudet, Dumas fils, the Goncourt brothers, Manet and Degas.