He moved to Naples at 10 years of age, to study literature, but his inclination was painting. He only briefly enrolled at the Neapolitan Academy, instead, real life was his model. His first work was a small and simple genre piece: A Girl who Laughs, exhibited at the Promotrice. Domenico Morelli took note and encouraged him.
He began painting landscapes at Granatello, where the painter Mariano Fortuny was visiting. Fortuny commented to his fellow painter that:
Many end up where you started .... (you) continue to study more from life; of the ancient painters only two or three will learn from nature to add to their art. I had to work twelve years, and God knows what and how much effort, to break the gates of the Academy within which I had imprisoned myself, while you breathe the open and have attained it already.