Giuseppe De Nittis

Giuseppe De Nittis
(Barletta 1846 - 1884 St.-Germain-en-Laye)

Sulle Falde del Vesuvio - On the Slopes of Vesuvius, 1871-2

Oil on panel, 12.5 x 18.2 cm
Signed lower right De Nittis

Acquired by the previous owner through the art trade;
Private collection, Germany.

We are grateful to Professor Christine Farese Sperken for confirming the authenticity of the present work.


I have climbed Vesuvius to work every day for the last year. And every day the journey took us six hours, ascending and descending on horseback, climbing up to the cone with the help of guides (…).[1]

When Giuseppe De Nittis set off from Paris on a brief visit to his native Italy with his wife in autumn 1870 he had no way of knowing that the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War would prolong his visit and it would be almost three years before he could return to Paris. He was to spend twelve months of his extended stay in Naples.

De Nittis visited Vesuvius almost daily, making ascents and descents on horseback. The volcano was then entering a period of renewed activity and was to provide him with a source of constantly changing motifs. His taccuino,[2] a diary, offers a fascinating day-to-day record of his impressions and documents his interest in volcanic activity. As a daily observer, he was also conveniently placed to witness the major eruption of April 26, 1872. In these twelve months he produced an important group of small-format plein-air studies which reflect his fascination for the bellezza selvaggia [wild beauty] of nature. Almost all these studies are in oil on panel and show him working towards a new formal and chromatic synthesis of his techniques, without precedent in Italian painting of the period.[3] Whereas previously it had been common practice, for example among artists like Volaire, Wright of Derby, Catel, Fabris and Hackert, to produce theatrical images of the eruptions of Vesuvius as spectacular mementos for Grand Tour travelers, De Nittis concentrated on the rich diversity of changes in weather and light conditions. In his oil sketches he developed a predilection for unconventional viewpoints and close-up images, and a fascination for light and color.

The viewer is led up the lower slopes of the volcano across steep, uneven ground overgrown with maquis. Two flat-roofed cuboid houses are sparingly indicated in the upper right corner of the image. A sketch belonging to the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan (Fig. 1)[4] also depicts a cube-shaped building. The tiny figures of two hikers are shown in both works – a man in a frock coat and a woman appear at the lower edge of the present oil sketch. De Nittis focuses on the contrast between the lush green of the vegetation and the earthy tones of the bare lava rock. He dispenses with a horizon line. The rapid, robust brushwork is a hallmark of plein-air painting. If it were not for the figures and buildings, the study could be interpreted as an entirely non-objective composition. The spontaneity and delicacy of the work testify to De Nittis’s mastery of plein-air sketching techniques.

Fig. 1 Giuseppe de Nittis, Alle Falde del Vesuvio, 1872, oil on panel, 13 x 17.5 cm, Milan, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, inv. GAM 5205

De Nittis executed a large body of studies of Vesuvius between 1871 and 1872 and they occupy an important position in his oeuvre. They rank among his most ambitious and modern works. He lodged for a time in Naples before moving to Resina (today’s Ercolano), a small village in a picturesque setting on the slopes of Vesuvius where he was to live until 1873. Here, far from the city, he could draw inspiration from nature and return to landscape painting, the preferred genre of his early career. The fascination of Vesuvius quickly captured his imagination and the volcano became the main focus of his work.

De Nittis is one of the best-known Italian painters of the nineteenth century. He took up his studies at the Istituto di Belle Arti in Naples but abandoned the academic tradition of his training early on. He came into contact with a group of young, mainly Florentine painters known as the Macchiaioli,[5] a name originally attributed to them by a critic as a term of ridicule. Following their example he began to practice plein-air painting. He moved to Paris in 1868 and quickly became an influential figure in the world of art and letters. In 1874, he participated in the Impressionists’ first group exhibition staged in the studio of the photographer Nadar. Independently wealthy, De Nittis acquired an elegant Paris residence which served as a popular meeting-place for leading artists and writers, particularly Degas, Manet, Caillebotte, Zola and the Goncourt brothers.[6] In recent years a large number of solo exhibitions have featured De Nittis’s work. One was jointly staged at the Petit Palais in Paris and the Pinacoteca Giuseppe De Nittis in Barletta in 2010, and a second held at the Palazzo Zabarella in Padua in 2013. An exhibition hosted by the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara followed in 2020. De Nittis’s first solo exhibition in the United States was held in 2022-3. Titled ‘An Italian Impressionist in Paris: Giuseppe De Nittis’, it was staged at the Phillips Collection in Washington.[7] The current solo exhibition, ‘De Nittis. Pittore della vita moderna’, is hosted by the Palazzo Reale in Milan and runs through June 2024.

1. Enzo Mazzoccoli and Nelly Rettmeyer (eds.), Giuseppe De Nittis. Notes et souvenirs. Diario 1870-1884, Fasano 42015, p. 69.
2. Mazzoccoli and Rettmeyer (eds.), op. cit.
3. See Christine Farese Sperken, ‘Alle Falde del Vesuvio’, in De Nittis. Impressionista italiano, exhib. cat., Rome, Chiostro del Bramante, Milan 2004, pp. 33-38.
4. Giuseppe De Nittis, Alle Falde del Vesuvio, 1872, oil on panel, 13 x 17.5 cm, Milan, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, inv. GAM 5205, <> (accessed Nov. 23, 2023).
5. Macchia, meaning stain or blot, was a term used by these Tuscan artists to explain their pictorial technique. The name ‘Macchiaioli’ originally attributed to them by a critic as a term of ridicule was later adopted by the group.
6. See Piero Dini and G. L. Marini, De Nittis. La vita, i documenti, le opere dipinte, catalogue raisonné, Turin 1990, I, pp. 83-161.
7. Gilles Chazal, Dominique Morel and Emanuela Angiuli (eds.), Giuseppe De Nittis: la modernité élégante, exhib. cat., Paris, Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris and Barletta, Pinacoteca Giuseppe De Nittis, Paris 2010;
Emanuela Angiuli and Fernando Mazzocca (eds.), De Nittis, exhib. cat., Padua, Palazzo Zabarella, Venice 2013;
Maria Luisa Pacelli, Barbara Guidi and Hélène Pinet (eds.), De Nittis e la rivoluzione dello sguardo, exhib. cat., Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, December 2019 - April 2020;
An Italian Impressionist in Paris: Giuseppe De Nittis, exhib. cat., Washington DC, The Phillips Collection, November 2022 - February 2023.


Comments are closed.

Durch die weitere Nutzung der Seite stimmen Sie der Verwendung von Cookies zu. Weitere Informationen

Die Cookie-Einstellungen auf dieser Website sind auf "Cookies zulassen" eingestellt, um das beste Surferlebnis zu ermöglichen. Wenn du diese Website ohne Änderung der Cookie-Einstellungen verwendest oder auf "Akzeptieren" klickst, erklärst du sich damit einverstanden.