Giuseppe de Nittis

Giuseppe de Nittis
(Barletta 1846 - 1884 Saint-Germain-en-Laye)

The Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, c.1879

Oil on panel, 26.5 x 35 cm
Signed lower left De Nittis
Bearing the estate stamp on the verso Atelier de Nittis
With the stamp of the Sommaruga collection

Angelo Sommaruga, Paris;
Mario Crespi, Milan.[1]

E. Piceni, De Nittis, Milan 1955, p.171, no.121;
M. Pittaluga and E. Piceni, De Nittis. Catalogo generale, Milan 1963, no. 451;
P. Dini and G. L. Marini, De Nittis: la vita, i documenti, le opere dipinte, Turin 1990, I, p.407, no. 744; II, fig. 744 (Paesaggio Inglese II).


Giuseppe 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 early on abandoned the academic tradition of his training. He came into contact with the group of young Florentine painters known as the Macchiaioli and following their example, began to practise plein-air painting. He moved to Paris in 1868 and quickly made his name in artistic and literary circles. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 prolonged a visit to Italy and it was almost three years before he could return to Paris. At this time the landscapes of Italy were his preferred subject – his impressions of Vesuvius are among his best-known works – and his preferred medium the plein-air oil sketch, which he honed to unparalleled perfection. Soon after his return to Paris he participated in the first exhibition of ‘impressionist’ painting staged in 1874 in the studio of the photographer Nadar. In London de Nittis’s reputation flourished, like that of his contemporaries Tissot, Whistler and Monet. He was an influential figure in the world of art and letters and his Paris residence a popular meeting-place for leading French and Italian artists and writers, particularly Degas and Manet, Daudet and Zola.[2]

De Nittis first visited London in 1874.[3] Here he was introduced to Kaye Knowles, a banker who was to be his most important English client. De Nittis travelled back and forth between Paris and London in the years 1874 to 1881, and was also frequently in Italy. In 1879 he spent the months of April to August and November to December in the British capital. In July a one-man exhibition of his work was opened at the King Street Galleries. He took many of London’s famous landmarks as his subjects – the Bank of England, the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly and Westminster (Fog over Westminster Bridge, 1878). In addition to painting scenes of everyday life in the big city he also produced sensitive impressions of its quieter corners. These latter works recall Claude Monet – particularly the views he painted on his visit to London in 1870-1 – impressions of the Thames, Green Park and Hyde Park seen from different viewpoints.[4]

Fig. 1 Giuseppe de Nittis, The Bridge, oil on panel, 27 x 35 cm

Fig. 1 Giuseppe de Nittis, The Bridge, oil on panel, 27 x 35

De Nittis painted a series of views of Hyde Park.[5] Four of these are oil sketches in almost identical format – the present painting is one of them, and another is titled The Bridge (Fig. 1). In addition there is a smaller Hyde Park view titled Paesaggio Inglese IV. They were all executed near the Serpentine, an artificial lake in Hyde Park (Fig. 2).[6] At the right of the present image, rapidly sketched, are two arches of the Serpentine Bridge. A brownish-green expanse of lawn stretches across to the edge of the lake and occupies the lower half of the image. The shadowy reflection of a line of trees on the far bank darkens the water, its surface mirroring patches of cloud in the sky. This masterly plein-air oil sketch testifies to de Nittis’s virtuosity in capturing momentary mood and atmosphere, a skill he doubtless acquired through his close contact with the French Impressionists.

Fig. 2 The Serpentine in Hyde Park, 1833

Fig. 2 The Serpentine in Hyde Park, 1833

  1. Mario Crespi (1879-1962) was a textile manufacturer and the publisher of the Corriere della Sera in Milan. See Roberto Romano, ‘Mario Crespi’, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, XXX, 1984.
  2. See Dini/Marini, op. cit., I, pp.83-161.
  3. De Nittis may possibly already have visited London briefly in the company of the painter Telemaco Signorini in 1873. See Dini/Marini, op. cit., I, p.98.
  4. See John House, ‘Le sujet chez Monet’, in Guy Cogeval (ed.), Claude Monet: 1840-1926, exhib. cat., Paris, Galeries Nationales d’Exposition du Grand Palais, Paris 2010, p.22.
  5. Paesaggio Inglese I, oil on panel, 26 x 36 cm, Dini/Marini, no. 743;
    Paesaggio Inglese III, oil on panel, 26 x 36 cm, Dini/Marini, no. 745;
    The Bridge (Paesaggio Inglese), oil on panel, 27 x 35 cm, Dini/Marini, no. 747;
    Paesaggio Inglese IV, oil on panel, 9 x 18 cm, Dini/Marini, no. 746.
  6. The Serpentine was constructed in 1730 under the aegis of Queen Caroline, wife of George II. It was formed by damming the River Westbourne. The uniqueness of this artificial lake lies in its design, which simulates the shape of a natural lake. Under George IV, Hyde Park was redesigned in the 1820s by Decimus Burton and in 1826 a bridge over the Serpentine was constructed by John Rennie. See Landscape History: Hyde Park – Park of pleasure:
    <>, accessed 12.05.2022.

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