Ettore Tito was born in Castellammare di Stabia (near Naples) on 17 December 1859 to Ubaldo Tito, a merchant marine captain and Luigia Novello Tito. His mother was Venetian, and when he was a small boy the family returned to Venice where he was to live for the rest of his life. He began his art studies at an early age, first with the Dutch artist Cecil Van Haanen, who was to become a lifelong friend, and then at the Accademia di Belle Arti where he had been accepted at the age of 12 before he had even reached the legal age for admission. At the Accademia he studied primarily under Pompeo Marino Molmenti and graduated at the age of 17.
His first major success came in 1887 when his painting Pescheria vecchia a Venezia (a depiction of the old fish market on the Rialto) won great praise at the Esposizione Nazionale Artistica in Venice and was subsequently bought by the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome.
Tito exhibited widely, and his work was popular beyond his native Italy. His paintings were to be seen in each Venice Biennale from its inception in 1895 until 1914 and again in 1920 when the Biennale resumed after World War I. He won the Premio Città di Venezia (City of Venice Prize) at the 1897 Biennale and a Grande Medaglia d’Oro (Grand Gold Medal) at the 1903 Biennale. In 1909 an entire room at the Biennale was devoted to a retrospective of his work with 45 paintings and a bronze sculpture of Pegasus on exhibit. (Entire rooms devoted to his work were also presented at the 1922, 1930 and 1936 Biennali.)
Abroad, Chioggia won a Gold medal at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris and was subsequently purchased by the Musée du Luxembourg. His painting, La gomena (The Cable), won the Grand Prize at the Exposition Universelle et Internationale in Brussels in 1910, and in 1915 he was awarded the Grand Prize in Italian painting at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. An exhibit of 18 of his canvases was also held in Los Angeles in 1926, the year in which he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Italy.
While his earlier paintings were largely depictions of the people, everyday life, and landscapes of Venice and the Veneto, after 1900 he increasingly turned to mythological and symbolic subjects inspired by 18th-century Venetian painting, both for his oil paintings and for the murals he painted at the Villa Berlinghieri in Rome and the Palazzo Martinengo in Venice. By the late 19th century, he was also in demand for his drawings and sketches which illustrated several British and American magazines, including The Graphic, Scribner’s Magazine, and Punch.
In a departure from his usual style, he produced slightly risqué Art Deco illustrations of four proverbs featuring depictions of emancipated women for a French magazine in the 1920s. One of them, Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera (“Heaven helps those who help themselves”) is held at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Tito was one of a group of painters with close ties to the English and American expatriate community in Venice which had its hub at the Palazzo Barbaro and was a friend of both John Singer Sargent and Isabella Stewart Gardner. Over the years, the family’s properties, Villa Tito in Riviera del Brenta and the Palazzotto Tito in Venice, were also gathering places for artists such as Anders Zorn, Ludwig Passini, Luigi Nono, and Mariano Fortuny as well as musicians and writers.
He painted the portraits of many members of his circle and their families including: composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari; art historian Corrado Ricci; poet Nadja Malacrida; journalist Luigi Albertini; artist Nerina Pisani Volpi (whose husband, Giuseppe Volpi, and their children were also painted by Tito); artist Rita D’Aronco, the daughter of the Tito’s close friend, Raimondo D’Aronco; the children of Edith and Cosimo Rucellai; and Dina Velluti, the sister of Venetian sculptor Gigetto Velluti. The Velluti portrait, La Sarabanda (The Sarabande) was painted in 1934 and is one of the best examples of his late portraiture style.
In 1894 Tito succeeded Pompeo Molmenti as the Professor of Painting at the Accademia in Venice, a post he held until 1927. Amongst his pupils were Eugenio Da Venezia, Cesare Mainella, Lucillo Grassi, Giuseppe Ciardi, Giovanni Korompay, Guido Marussig, Domenico Failutti, and the magic realist painter Cagnaccio di San Pietro.
One of the most important commissions in his later years came in 1929, when at the age of 70 he was asked to create a 400 square metre painting for the vault of the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Nazareth in Venice to replace the one by Tiepolo destroyed in World War I. His last major work, I maestri veneziani (The Venetian Masters) was completed in 1937 and shown at the Venice Biennale in 1940. Considered his “spiritual testament”, the painting depicts Venice personified as a young woman surrounded by the city’s greatest artists (Tiepolo, Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto) who pay homage to her while Goldoni and a harlequin look on.
Tito died in Venice on 26 June 1941 at the age of 81. His son, Luigi Tito (1907–1991) was also a noted painter. Luigi’s son, Pietro Giuseppe (Eppe) Tito (born 1959), is a noted sculptor. In September 2003, a retrospective exhibition of the works of Etttore, Luigi, and Pietro Giuseppe Tito was held at the Villa Pisani in Stra.
Art Now and Then: Ettore Tito
“Art Now and Then” does not mean art occasionally. It means art NOW as opposed to art THEN. It means art in 2020 as compared to art many years ago…sometimes many, many, MANY years ago. It is an attempt to make that art relevant now, letting artists back then speak to us now in the hope that we may better understand them, and in so doing, better understand ourselves and the art produced today.
Although I’ve made a concerted effort to correct the impression, when it comes to Italian art, a great many “art appreciators” tend to think only in terms of the Italian Renaissance. It’s as if art and artists in Italy ceased to exist after the 16th-century. Intellectually, we all know better, but at the same time, many art lovers would be hard pressed to name a single Italian painter after Caravaggio or a Italian sculptor who lived and worked after Bernini.
Admittedly, there was something of a lull after the Baroque era from which the Macchiaioli movement in Florence struggled mightily to recover during the mid-1800s. With these rowdy rascals leading the way, by the early 20th-century the newly united Italian nation was once more a vibrant part of the evolution of Modern Art. Ettore Tito was a big part of that era, even though today, he and many other artists of his stature are largely lost in the annuls of art history, overshadowed by the grandeur of the past or the fireworks of the international art movements which came later.
As seems to happen often in the case of Italian artists, Ettore Tito was the proverbial poster-boy of the childhood art prodigy. Born near Naples in 1859, his father, who was in the merchant marines, settled his family in Venice while his son was still a young boy. He began studying with local Venetian masters sometime around the age of eight or ten and by the time Ettore was twelve he was accepted into the Venice Academy of Fine Arts. He graduated at the age of seventeen. Though Tito presumably worked as a professional painter from the late 1870s (probably painting portraits and local scenes for the tourists), it wasn’t until 1878 that he achieved his first major success with his painting of The Rialto Fish Market (top), which was highly praised during the Venice National Artists’ Exhibition and eventually purchased by the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome.
During the next few years Tito seems to have concentrated mostly on painting genre scenes of everyday Italian life such as his The Palmist (above, left). from 1886, and the beach scene titled simply July (above, right) from 1893-94. Tito exhibited widely, his work becoming popular beyond his native Italy. He entered paintings in each Venice Biennale from its very first years in 1895 except for the war years (1914 to 1919), and then again starting in 1920 when the Biennale resumed after World War I. His paintings won awards in 1897 and again in 1903. In 1909 he was awarded an entire room for his work, which he filled with some forty-five paintings. Similar exposure was allowed him at the 1922, 1930, and 1936 Biennali.
During much of the 1890s, Tito seems to have gravitated from scenes of Venetian city life to the Italian countryside as seen in his paintings such as Autunno (above, top-left) from 1914; Asiago (above, top-right) from 1894; and The Farmer and Oxen (above, bottom). After 1900, Tito’s critical and financial success allowed him to indulge his passion for mythological subjects (below), particularly nude nymphs nakedly frolicking in the surf, a thinly disguised eroticism designed to appeal to the wealthy, largely male, art buying public.
Ettore Tito’s nymphs,–Ondine (above, top-left), 1919; The Birth of Venus, (above, top-right) 1903; Le Amazzoni (above, bottom-left), 1914; The Nymphs (above, bottom-right), 1911.
Also, being a Venetian painter, Tito could hardly have escaped the city’s long tradition of religious art as seen in his Descent from the Cross (below) from 1911. Tito even made a stab at history painting as seen in his group portrait, Venetian Masters (bottom), dating from 1937. Ettore Tito died in Venice in 1941 at the age of eighty-one, having inspired a whole generation of Venetian artists as an instructor at Venice Academy. Among the many, they including in his son, the painter Luigi Tito, and his grandson, the sculptor, Pietro Giuseppe Tito, proving Italian art did not die with the Renaissance.