The present work is a smaller variant of one of the artist's most famous paintings, today in the Pinacoteca Giuseppe de Nittis in Barletta (fig. 1). It reveals de Nittis to be very much what Baudelaire called 'a painter of modern life', but infused with a sensitivity of spirit far more profound than the other more light-hearted Belle Epoque painters to whom the epithet also applies.
Like the Impressionists, whom de Nittis befriended in Paris, de Nittis was fascinated by the rapid advances of the Industrial age, of which the train was one of the most powerful symbols. In the present work, de Nittis presents a panoramic plain populated only by a few bare trees and two peasant women, setting a melancholic mood. The timelessness of this setting is however jarringly interrupted by the virtually unseen presence of the train, signalled only by the billowing trail of steam it leaves behind.
The authenticity of this painting has been confirmed by Dr. Christine Farese Sperken in a certificate dated 2 October 2009. She has suggested that the present work was probably commissioned from the artist around 1880, when the larger version was exhibited to wide acclaim at the Esposizione Nazionale in Turin.