Giuseppe De Nittis (Italian, 1846-1884)
Giuseppe De Nittis (Italian, 1846-1884)

Portrait of a Gentleman on a Parisian Boulevard

Giuseppe De Nittis (Italian, 1846-1884)
Portrait of a Gentleman on a Parisian Boulevard
signed 'De Nittis' (lower right)
oil on panel
16¼ x 10½ in. (41.3 x 26.7 cm.)
Painted circa 1875-1880.
Private collection, New York, 1950s.

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Lot Essay

A smartly-dressed gentleman stands on a bustling Parisian boulevard. With his left arm akimbo and his right hand resting on his cane, he exudes a quiet confidence and composure as he nonchalantly meets the viewer's gaze. Around him, the modern city swirls with horse-drawn carriages and well-heeled men, women and children all painted with loose brushstrokes, heightening the sense of movement on the busy street. In contrast to his dizzying surroundings, the gentleman appears as a pillar of calm and precision with every aspect of him clearly defined from the sheen of his coat buttons and top hat to his carefully modeled face and hands. This juxtaposition of the highly finished central figure with a broadly rendered background is seen in many of De Nittis' portraits such as his depiction of his wife and son in the Pinacoteca Giuseppe de Nittis (fig. 1). The sketchy, seemingly spontaneous quality of his work is of course suggestive of the Impressionists with whom De Nittis shared close ties. Indeed, by the time De Nittis painted the present portrait, he had already exhibited at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and he counted among his friends many of the group's leading members such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet.

The subject of the present painting could possibly be a young member of the Morbilli family. Edmondo Morbilli married Degas' sister Teresa, and the man pictured could be a distant relative of the French master. Francesca Dini has also suggested that De Nittis may have had Degas' Henri Rouart in front of his Factory in mind when he painted the present painting. Contemporaneous portraits, both feature well-dressed men in top hats silhouetted against urban landscapes carefully integrated with their surroundings, this young man and Henri Rouart appear as successful denizens of the modern age.

By the mid-1870s, De Nittis was himself a well-respected member of Parisian society, having received both popular and critical acclaim. He had earned the support of Paris' most sought-after dealer Adolphe Goupil and his home had become a renowned meeting place for Saturday evening soirées that attracted the period's most avant-garde artists. In 1878, De Nittis won a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris as well as the Légion d'honneur. Shortly thereafter, De Nittis became the first contemporary Italian painter to be collected by a Parisian museum when the Musée du Luxembourg acquired his La Place du Carrousel: Ruins of the Tuileries.

We are grateful to Francesca Dini for confirming the authenticity of this painting and for her assistance in the preparation of this catalogue entry.

This work will be included in her forthcoming supplement to the catalogue raisonné on Giuseppe De Nittis.

(fig. 1) Giuseppe De Nittis, La signora De Nittis col figlio, Museo Pinacoteca Comunale G. De Nittis, Barletta.

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