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Giovanni Boldini | La Belle Epoque

From: The British Museum
Born in Ferrara, the son of the painter Antonio Boldini (1792-1872), from whom he received his first artistic training, Giovanni Boldini studied at the Civico Ateneo di Palazzo dei Diamanti in his native city, where he had established a reputation as an accomplished portrait painter by the time he was 18.
In 1862 he went to Florence, where he met artists in the Macchiaioli circle at the Caffé Michelangiolo, while attending the Scuola del Nudo at the Accademia di Belle Arti.
Michele Gordigiani (1830-1909), the leading portrait painter in Tuscany, passed on some of his commissions to Boldini.
Boldini saw and admired the paintings of Courbet and Manet at the Exposition Universelle in 1867 on a visit to Paris, where he met Degas, who became a lifelong friend.

Through Signorini, Boldini met the Falconers, an expatriate English family, for whose villa near Pistoia he painted eight rural scenes and seascapes, large mural paintings in tempera.

In 1867, he worked alongside Fattori and Giuseppe Abbati (1836-68), painting landscapes in the open air.
At the invitation of a friend of the Falconers, Lord William Cornwallis - West, Boldini visited London in 1870, where he admired the paintings of Turner, Reynolds and Gainsborough, and embarked on a career as a fashionable portraitist. When he settled in Paris the following year, Adolphe Goupil gave him a contract.

Boldini, like De Nittis, painted silvery views of the city, which in their tones revealed an admiration for Corot, but he also established a line in small eighteenth century costume pieces, aiming at the same market as Meissonnier and Fortuny.

Giovanni Boldini | Portrait of John Singer Sargent

In 1876 he travelled to Holland, where he admired the work of Frans Hals. This was the period, when he first established his reputation for portraits of beautiful high society women, which were painted with flamboyant slashing brushstrokes. Boldini's friends included other notable portraitists, among them Whistler, Sargent and Helleu.
His portrait practice extended to the intelligentsia, as well as to the aristocracy, and, like Sargent, he received many commissions from various prominent members of Belle Époque society. Boldini rarely left Paris, although in 1889 he visited Spain with Degas, where he studied the work of Vélásquez, Goya and Tiepolo, and from there, he went on to Morocco.

In 1897 he travelled to New York for a highly successful one - man show at Boussod, Valadon and Co. Boldini developed a highly artificial style, in which the elongations and the serpentine arrangements of his sitters can be related to the work of his fellow Emilian sixteenth century painter, Parmigianino.

Giovanni Boldini 1842 - 1931 | Italian genre and portrait painter | La Belle Epoque

The turbulence of his very fluid brushwork and his interest in exaggerated movement can be seen as prefiguring Futurism.
From the 1880s, like Degas, Boldini used pastel for some of his full-scale portraits, and he was also a very prolific watercolourist and draughtsman.
Boldini's earliest etching, representing a working man beside the Seine, dates from c. 1878-80.

It is likely that he learnt the technique from Marcellin Desboutin or De Nittis.
One of his earliest etchings, which may be a portrait of De Nittis, is very much in the style of Desboutin.
Boldini also made several dry points of women similar in type to the near contemporary etchings of De Nittis.
He etched two portraits of his friend, Degas and a view from a box at the opera, in which the composition is very similar to the work of Degas.

Giovanni Boldini 1842 - 1931 | Italian genre and portrait painter | La Belle Epoque

Few of Boldini's prints can be dated with precision.
They were mostly portraits in dry point. Boldini's sitters included the Belgian poet, Georges Rodenbach, artist friends such as Cristiano Banti, Paul Helleu and John Singer Sargent, and the society figures, Lord Castelreagh, the Infanta Eulalia of Spain and the Comtesse d'Orsay.
He also made a few prints of figures on horseback.
In all Boldini made 80 intaglio prints between the late 1870s and 1912. | Source: © The British Museum

Giovanni Boldini 1842-1931 | Italian genre and portrait painter | La Belle Epoque

Giovanni Boldini was nominated commissioner of the Italian section of the Paris Exposition in 1889, and received the Légion d'honneur for this appointment.

Giovanni Boldini 1842 - 1931 | Italian genre and portrait painter | La Belle Epoque

Giovanni Boldini 1842-1931 | Italian Genre and Portrait painter | La Belle Epoque

Giovanni Boldini 1842-1931 | Italian Genre and Portrait painter | La Belle Epoque

A Boldini portrait of his former muse Marthe de Florian, a French actress, has been discovered in a Paris flat, locked up for 70 years.
The portrait has never been listed, exhibited or published and the flat belonged to de Florian's granddaughter who went to live in the South of France before the Second World War and never returned.
A love-note and a biographical reference to the work painted in 1898, when the actress was 24, cemented its authenticity. At auction the painting sold for € 2.1 million, a record for the artist.

Portrait of the Artist: Lawrence Alexander "Peter" Harrison, 1902