Giuseppe De Nittis was born in Barletta, in the region of Apulia – Italy on 25 February 1846 and spent most of his prolific artistic life in Paris, where he become part of the French impressionist movement, although maintaining a clear personal style of painting, He died prematurely in 1884 at the age of 38 at the peak of his artistic career. When years later also his wife Léontine died, she decided to bequeath all the remaining estate, including the painter’s personal collection of paintings and drawings, to the municipality of Barletta, his native town. It took almost 100 years to find a suitable permanent location to exhibit this collection, which since 2006 has been on display in the beautifully refurbished Palazzo della Marra. The first floor of the building is entirely devoted to De Nittis’ artworks, while the second floor is used for temporary exhibitions.
Since the very beginning of his career De Nittis wanted to develop his own specific style of painting, distant from academic approaches and closer to the plain depiction of nature stemming from direct observation, rather than workshop study. During this initial time he paints primarily landscapes with limpid and clear light inspired by nature around Naples. This will be known as a new artistic movement inspired by realism and later as “macchiaioli” (from the Italian word for stain). The landscape below, Lungo l’Ofanto – Ofanto Riverside, is a later example of this style and depicts a riverside landscape around his native region in Italy.
Once he moved to Paris these artistic ideas were very close to the ones of the group of painters that will become known as impressionists. Hence, De Nittis turned out to be integral part of the mouvement and started exhibiting at the Salon in the period between 1869 and 1874 where his paintings were received with great success. In 1878 he put on display twelve artpieces at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and was granted a Légion d’honneur. In that year he also spent a period in London where he produced impressionist landscapes such as Westmister Bridge, also using the pastel technique.
After this happy period in London De Nittis returned to Paris and continued his successful activity as a salon painter with his own distinctive impressionist style. By now the Italian painter was fully recognised in the French artistic circles as a leading painter. He was awarded a Légion d’honneur in 1878. One of his last paintings depicts a family scene gathered in the house garden for breakfast. Almost as a premonition, one place at the table is left empty, waiting for a guest to arrive or for someone who went away. Soon after completing this painting, Giuseppe De Nittis suddenly died of a brain stroke and left his young family without their breadwinner. The only son, Jacques, physician and writer, also died prematurely at the age of 35.