Girolamo Pieri Nerli was born in Siena in 1860. His father was an Italian aristocrat, and perhaps it was from him that Girolamo inherited the style and flair for which he later became famous. The young Girolamo went to Florence to study art, and there he encountered a group of Italian artists called the Macchiaioli, who were reacting against the formal rules of art of the time. Inspired by them, he brought a distinctly different approach to painting -, first to Australia, then to New Zealand.
Nerli caused quite a stir in Australia by exhibiting paintings which were considered risqué or even immoral. The general public were excited by their subjects, but the art world was equally excited by their brushwork and unfinished appearance. When the artist moved on to Dunedin in 1893, the city’s art circles were clearly in for a change.
Nerli was a flamboyant individual as well as an unconventional painter, and his three years in Dunedin helped to make the city the art centre of the country. He was elected to the council of the Otago Art Society, and in 1894 was one of a group of three artists who opened the Otago Art Academy. He was a charismatic teacher, and his private classes were so popular that the Dunedin School of Art and Design decided to employ him as a teacher of painting. It was clearly better to hire him than compete with him.