Giovanni Boldini is one of the most famous Italian artists, known for his beautiful genre painting and portraiture.
Despite living and working in Paris for most of his artistic career, Boldini produced some of his most famous paintings. Humorously termed the “Master of Swish,” his portraits exuded beauty and style.
This brief introduction explores Giovanni Boldini’s unique artistic creations and his fascinating personal life.
Born on 31 December 1842, Boldini spent his early life in Ferrara in northern Italy. His father worked as a painter, primarily focusing on religious artworks. It was an artistic and creative family, as Boldini’s older brother (Luigi) worked as a successful architect.
In 1862 (at nineteen years old), Boldini traveled to Florence to study fine art. He enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts and remained a student for the next six years. However, Boldini wasn’t entirely committed to his studies, only intermittently attending classes.
Nonetheless, he met several artist friends during this time. Boldini’s companions mostly worked in the “realist” style, attempting to depict their sitters and subjects truthfully and accurately. Known as the “Macchiaioli”, this group paved the way for Italian Impressionism. They focused on natural light, shade, and color, creating exquisite artwork.
This influence appears in Boldini’s early landscapes (such as The Great Road in the Villas Combes) and his later portraiture. Indeed, the Macchiaioli’s spontaneous brushwork and intense color defined Boldini’s artistic style.
Giovanni Boldini created some of the most famous female portraits. Many of these artworks are known as “genre painting”, an art style focusing on scenes of everyday life.
After completing his studies, Boldini moved to London. He quickly established a career as a successful painter, working on depictions of high-society women.
Boldini moved to Paris in 1872, where he befriended Edgar Degas. This friendship introduced Boldini to avant-garde Impressionist circles and wealthy clients. As a result, he soon emerged as the most in-demand portrait painter in Paris.
Boldini’s art maintained Italian Macchiaioli influences, including quick, dashing brushstrokes. He combined these approaches with contemporary Impressionist portraiture from the likes of John Singer Sargent.
A painting such as La Signora in Rosa (a portrait of Olivia de Subercaseaux Concha) perfectly exemplifies this approach.
The term “genre painting” refers to art depicting everyday scenes. As such, this could include domestic locations, urban life, or countryside pursuits.
It emerged in Holland during the seventeenth century, where paintings of peasants working or socializing (often drinking in taverns) were popular. William Hogarth developed this form of art in Britain, painting many moralizing narrative images such as A Rake’s Progress.
During the Victorian age, Genre Painting experienced a new lease of life. Sir David Wilkie’s sentimental creations (often featuring family scenes) exemplified this approach.
By the turn of the nineteenth century, Genre Painting once again re-emerged. This generation of artists focused on capturing the excitement and fleeting nature of modern industrial life in Europe’s great capitals. Strictly ordered Victorian compositions gave way to glittering street scenes and café interiors from Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Édouard Manet.
It’s important to note the word “genre” also refers to different subjects within a painting. So, for example, history painting, portraiture, landscapes, and still lifes are all examples of “genres” of art.
Boldini is primarily known for his fashionable society portraits. However, he painted all the “grande dames” of Paris. These women included Madame de Gillespie (La Dame de Biarritz) and Madame Juillard (painted in a striking red dress).
As his fame and renown grew, securing a Boldini portrait represented the pinnacle of social achievement in style-conscious Paris.
Boldini’s style was incredibly advanced in the early twentieth century. His dashing lines created a sense of movement even with carefully posed sitters. Among famous Italian artists, Boldini was also known for his “décolleté paintings,” which provocatively draw the viewer’s gaze to a woman’s cleavage.
In 1889, Boldini worked as the commissioner for the Italian display at the Paris Exposition Universelle. This iconic event was the first “World’s Fair”, held from May to October 1889.
The exhibition drew in over thirty-two million visitors, not least for its crowning exhibit, the Eiffel Tower. Boldini received the Légion d’honneur for his work on the show.
Over his long and illustrious career, Giovanni Boldini created over 240 individual paintings.
Boldini participated in the Venice Biennale from 1895 onwards. He returned to this international artistic display (representing Italian art) in 1903, 1905, and 1905. With a growing international reputation, Boldini also held a solo exhibition in New York in 1897.
Despite this success, Boldini stopped painting many years before his death. His works increasingly appeared old-fashioned with the emergence of twentieth-century abstraction.
Boldini died at his Paris home on 11 January 1931, aged 88.
After his death, posthumous exhibitions of Giovanni Boldini paintings appeared worldwide. The 1938 exhibition at the Newhouse Galleries in New York was one of the most famous shows.
Boldini had many muses during his career. One of the most famous was Marthe de Florian, a French actress and socialite known for her many famous lovers.
These men included Georges Clemenceau, Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau (who both served as French Prime Minister), and Giovanni Boldini.
In 2010, a family member rediscovered Florian’s belongings in an abandoned Paris apartment. These objects included Boldini’s Portrait of the Actress Marthe de Florian (1888). Accompanied by a love letter, Giovanni Boldini created the portrait when Florian was twenty-four.
Before this, the artwork was never published, exhibited, or listed on public display. Nevertheless, an astounding discovery of one of the artist's famous Italian paintings furthered our understanding of both Boldini and Marthe de Florian.
In 2014, this artistic discovery formed the basis of Michelle Gable’s novel A Paris Apartment.
One of our Popular Giovanni paintings is Still Life with Rose. A wide selection of flower paintings online in our Art Collections.
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