De Nittis was born in the village of Barletta, not far from Naples. Through his mid-twenties, de Nittis painted in the countryside around Naples. He went to Paris in 1867 and met Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) and Gérôme’s father-in-law, the art dealer Adolphe Goupil. De Nittis settled in Paris and, in 1869, exhibited for the first time at the Salon.
War broke out between France and Prussia in 1870, and de Nittis returned to Naples, coming back to Paris after the war and exhibiting at the Salon of 1872. In Paris, de Nittis was close to Degas, Edouard Manet, and Gustave Caillebotte; Degas invited him to participate in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. His works were successful at the annual Salon, and were purchased by collectors in France, England, and the United States. De Nittis was made a knight of the Legion of Honor in 1878. Like many artists of his time, de Nittis’ preferred method of work was to sketch outdoors and then complete his paintings in the studio.