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At the Bois de Boulogne

Painting, 1873, 20×30 cm

Description of the artwork «At the Bois de Boulogne»

Exemplary work of De Nittis - it is not by chance that it dates back to one of the happiest moments of his production - this small canvas, well known thanks to the many reproductions and the numerous exhibitions in which it appeared, brings together in a miraculous way those peculiarities of subject, atmosphere, style that make the painter of Barletta an artist of international level. De Nittis has in fact created a very personal pictorial world, escaping any definition of convenience, asserting himself outside of any current and passing "through the Neapolitan academy, old and new, through the academicism of Gérôme and Meissonier, through Macchiaioliism and Impressionism while remaining, in the end, always faithful to himself". (E. Piceni, Giuseppe De Nittis e i Pittori della "Scuola di Resina", Naples, 1963).
Examining the painting, apart from the fascination and suggestion it arouses, one is immediately struck by the skilful composition of the various elements that combine to create the balance and harmony of the whole. First of all, the small world constituted by the female figure, that of Léontine, De Nittis' wife, and by that of the child, Jacques, the painter's son: captured and fixed in their spontaneous attitude, they punctuate, with the refinement of the clothing, the elegance and the taste of an epoch, conferring to the painting that tone of great pleasantness that distinguishes it, without for this reason making it lapse into a "genre scene". A subsequent examination, more careful and meticulous, highlights other and no less important components of the painting: the oblique cut of the fence, along a typically Denisian road, which delimits the foreground of the painting; the elegant parade of carriages - the fulcrum of the entire scene - beyond a tenuous green lawn that highlights the dark stain of the "fiacre"; the agile and quick movement of the horses at a trot; and, finally, in the background, the "Bois" under a typically Parisian sky with the low and delicate tones typical of an incipient autumn.
The variety of the figurative elements and the richness of the chromatic fabric, which make this painting an authentic masterpiece, do not come from the happy intuition of a moment but are the result of constant and meticulous research, documented by the large number of "details", "studies" and "notes" that allowed the artist to create perfect works often linked together by common motifs. See, for example, the analogy between the "silhouette" of Léontine in our painting and that of the two women who emerge forcefully from the swarming crowd in Le corse a Longchamps (M. Pittaluga-E. Piceni, Bramante, Milan, 1963, no. 609), or that of the three female figures in the very famous Che freddo! (op. cit., n. 263, table XVII) which, exhibited at the Salon in 1874, consecrated De Nittis' celebrity and led him on the road to wealth. Note again how in The Amazons at Longchamps (op. cit., n. 267, table XX) the oblique cut of the fence, which here also serves as a support for the outline of the three female figures, is decisive in the balance of the composition. We could give many other examples and recall how frequently the motif of the carriage in the distance returns in De Nittis, or how often his painting is immersed in a delicate pearly light that envelops characters and figures.
If the paintings mentioned above are linked to the world and taste of Al Bois, there is a small study of this oil painting in a private collection which represents the bust of Léontine in the same attitude as the definitive work. The technique - a moving, nervous watercolour - and the colors - a succession of delicate brown tones that fade into the tawny mass of the hair - make this study an autonomous work, valid as such. It does not simply depict a woman's back, but interprets an entire feminine universe, that represented by De Nittis' wife, Léontine, whom the painter used to call "mon camarade, mon confident, mon modèle et ma femme."

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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Genre scene

Style of art: Impressionism

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1873

Size: 20×30 cm