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Giovanni Boldini (1845 -1931)
Italian-French portrait painter

Born in Ferrara, Italy in 1845.  Like Sargent, he had an international career, working mainly in Paris, but also in England where he was  well known in London.  By the turn of the century Boldini had become the most sought after portrait painter in Paris, achieving such a success that his reputation equaled that of  Sargent's in London. He was renowned as a colorist and technician, and his works are considered very much Parisian. 

* * *

I believe Sargent first met Boldini in the summer of 1880 (Sargent was 24 and Boldini 38). John had traveled to Venice to meet his family and there he set up a studio. He very easily could have met him in Paris prior, or at the very least Sargent might have known of him. It would be in the early 80's that Boldini painted Sargent.

In 1885, after the Madame X scandal of the previous year, Sargent moved to London after being there a year he gave up his Paris Boulevard Berthier studio to Boldini who would become one of the best-loved portrait painter of Parisian high society. Their paths would cross quite a bit. They stayed in contact but it is not documented very well. I know for sure Boldini sketched him in 1902.

* * *

Giovanni Boldini was born in Ferrara  the eighth of thirteen children. He arrived in  Florence in 1862-65, where he came into contact members of the Barbizon school, the Macchiaioli (a group of artists opposed to the strict teachings of the Accademia -- pronounced "mah-key-ay-OH-li") worked to emphasize painterly immediacy and freshness -- (Other artists of that school included Silvestro Lega, Giovanni Fattori, Vito d'Ancona, and Giovanni (Nino) Costa). Principle among these early associations was Boldini's friendship with the influential thinker and art critic Diego Martelli who, himself, would helped mold and champion the ideas of French Impressionism in Italy.

From the earliest years of Boldini's career, he displayed a remarkable talent as a portrait painter, and during a trip to London in 1869  was able to obtain numerous commissions. He would carry this forward residing in London  on-and-off for the next five years. Boldini also produced landscape paintings, including a series of frescoes at the Villa 'La Falconiera', near Pistoia in 1870 at the age of 28. 

However gifted he might have been in these other areas, his talent and love was clearly for the art of portraiture. In 1872 he settled in Paris at the age of 30, taking a studio on the Place Pigalle. Beginning in '74 he exhibited frequently at the annual Salons (the year that Sargent arrived) and quickly rose to prominence in Parisian art circles. He enjoyed an exclusive contract with the eminent art  dealer Adolphe Goupil, and for him produced small, brightly colored 18th century costume pieces such as "Young Woman Writing" that were popular with his Parisian clientele. 

Boldini's public debut of '74 at the Salon de Mars with his bold, fluid style of painting soon proved immensely popular. He began to paint society portraits and quickly developed a reputation for his dazzling, elegant depictions of the fashionable women, executed with these bold, fluid  brushstrokes. 

Sem's Boldini and Ava Aastor

Here, Boldini is depicted in a caricature by Sem dancing with the wealthy socialite Ava Astor. 


He would paint portraits of other painters such as  James A. McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, and  Paul-César Helleu along with Paul's wife. He became a close friend of Degas (Degas drew Boldini); and like Degas, he began to use pastel extensively in the 1880's. Boldini died in Paris in 1931.

Today there is a Boldini museum in his native Ferrara.  Among Boldini's better known works are "A Summer Stroll", "At the Piano", "After the Orgy", "Count Robert de Montesquiou ", "The dutchess of Marlborough", "the princess von Hohenlohe" and "Spring Flowers"

(P.806, Vol3)

“Master of Swish”
Time Magazine, April 3, 1933, p. 28-29

With her tongue ever so slightly in her check, Mrs. Chester Dale, collector and authority on French painting, helped organize four months ago an exhibition of the paintings of the late Alphonse Bouguereau, barroom decorator par excellence of the Gay Nineties. For all their technical slickness, the correct perspective for looking at a Bouguereau nude was always obtained through the bottom of a 16 oz. Beer glass. Critics in the chill light of a formal art gallery were not impressed with the “Back to Bouguereau” movement. Last week with a better artist and in a better cause (a loan exhibition at the Wildenstein Galleries for New York’s Child Welfare Committee), Maud Dale revived the work of one of M. Bouguereau’s contemporaries, the late Giovanni Boldini.

Giovanni Boldini (“Zanin” to intimates) was a society portraitist as artificial as any who ever stretched a lady’s fingers to tickle her vanity. Modernists excuse Zanin Boldini for a virtue denied most Academicians, an exuberance, vivacity and frank sensuousness that won him the title of “Master of Swish,” and made his huge canvases on view last week a series of gay explosions, brilliantly painted.

Born in Ferrara in 1842, he grew up to be a little fellow (half an inch too short for military service), with a mincing manner and a domelike forehead. He abhorred Bohemianism, was always perfectly frank in his love of rich food, fine clothes, beautiful women. His career took him first to Florence, then London, then Paris. Ever since the Salon of 1875 his steady succession of portraits and mistresses had been gaining fame but it was not until the turn of the century that Boldini entered his Grand Period. He was preeminently the artist of the Edwardian era, of the pompadour, the champagne supper and the ribbon-trimmed chemise.

The passing of the petticoat was the passing of Boldini’s art. He lived to be 88. Too purblind to paint, he could still drink champagne and chuck pretty young models under the chin. In 1929, aged 86, he suddenly married. At his wedding breakfast he made a little speech: “It is not my fault if I am so old, it’s something which has happened to me all at once.”


Boldini Exhibit
Wildenstein Galleries, New York
Exhibition catalogue

Featured Authors


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Sampling of works
by Boldini
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Alaide Banti 
Oil on Wood 
23x37 cm

Diego Martelli
c. 1865

Giuseppe Abbati

Vincenzo Cabianca

Inside with figure 

Paesaggio Agreste
(Agreste Landscape)

Ritratto Mary Donegan

Signora con Fiori 
(Lady with Flowers)

The Letter 
Private collection 
Watercolor over pencil on paper attached at the edges on board 

The Hammock
c.1872 - 1874

Woman at a Piano 
c 1870's 
Private collection 
Oil on panel

The Conversation

Putting on her Dress
Christie’s, New York 
Oil on wood 
21.6 x 17.5 cm 

Young Woman Writing
Larin, Guilloux and Buffetaud, Paris

The Beauty Before The Mirror

Liseuse dans un Salon

The Red Umbrella

The Laundry
Crossing the Street

Young woman seated on the divano 
(Mondana that re-enters) 

Horses and Knights 
Oil on tablet   

John Singer Sargent
A Portrait of John Singer Sargent 
c. 1880-1884? 

In the Studio

Madame Leclanche

La cantante mondana
(The Mondona Singer)
The Piano paintings
before July 1886

Portrait of a Young Man

Madame Rejane (Gabrielle Rejane) 
c 1885 
Oil on canvas 

Pastel on cardboard
(Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt?)

about 1880

Henri Rochefort

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Profile of Alaide Banti 
Oil on table 



Cafe Scene 
c. 1887 
oil on panel 
30 1/2 x 39 (77.5 x 99.1 cm) inches 
Bequest of Whitney Warren Jr. in memory of Mrs. Adolph B. Spreckels 1988.10.5 

Signorina Concha de Ossa 
Pastel on prepared canvas

Portrait of Emiliana Concha de Ossa
c. 1888

Donna in nero che guarda il pastello della signora Emiliana Concha de Ossa
(Woman in black who watches the pastel of  . . .)

Portrait of the Comte de Rasty

Il pittore Joaquin Araujo Ruano 

Afternoon Stroll 

Girl in a Black Hat 

John Lewis Brown with wife and daughter

John Singer Sargent

Testa di signora con capellino giallo (Il cappello giallo)

Giovanetta Erraruiz 
(daughter of 
Madame Josephina Alvear de Errazuriz)

Madame Josephina Alvear de Errazuriz 

Il maestro Emanuele Muzio sul podio

Signora Bruna in Abito Da Sera

View of Venice
c. 1895

Edgar Degas

Portrait of the Artist Ernest Ange Duez

Portrait of Whistler Asleep 
19.8 x 29.8 cm (image) inches 
Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts purchase 

Portrait of James Abbott McNeill Whistler
c. 1890-1900

Count Robert de Montesquiou 

Lady Colin Campbell

Dona Eulalia of Spain

Madame Georges Hugo (Jeanne Hugo) and Her Son

La femme en rouge 
(The Woman in Red) 

La Femme Au Chapeau Noir
Pastel on linen

Edith Stuyvesant Dresser Vanderbilt 

Portrait of Mrs. Graham Fair Vanderbilt  (1875-1935)
(First wife of William Kissam Vanderbilt II, and mother of Muriel and Consuelo Vanderbilt)

The Misses Muriel and Consuelo Vanderbilt
Oil on canvas
224.2 x 120 cm  (88 1/4 x 47 1/4 in.)
Gift of Mrs. Vanderbilt Adams 67.31.2
(daughters of William Kissam Vanderbilt II, and first wife  Virginia Graham Fair Vanderbilt) 

Portrait of a Man in a Church
Watercolor on paper

Anita de la Ferie, 
'The Spanish Dancer'

Lina Cavalieri

Portrait of Emiliana Concha de Ossa (2)

Portrait of the Artist: Lawrence Alexander "Peter" Harrison

Deux Promeneuses (Two Ladies Out For A Walk)
Crayon on paper
Profile sketch of John Singer Sargent and Paul-César Helleu

Florence, Mrs. (later Lady) Lionel Phillips

 Portrait of Lady Nanne Schrader (Née Wiborg)

Princes Radziwill with red ribbon

'Willy', The Writer Henri Gauthier-Villars
Private collection
Oil on canvas

The Black Sash

Princess Anastasia of Greece


Countess Zichy

Lady Decies
Mrs Henry Lehr
(nee Elizabeth Drexel)
Lady Decies

Gladys Deacon  (1881-1977)
c, 1905-1908
Oil on canvas
(Second wife of the Duke of Marlborough after he and Consuelo were divorced)

Consuelo Vanderbilt (1876–1964), Duchess of Marlborough, and Her Son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill (1898–1956)

Mme Eugène-Louis Doyen

Ritratto di Mlle Lanthelme
(Miss Lantelme)

Portrait of Madame X, 
Oil on panel
10 1/2 x 14 (26.7 x 35.6 cm) inches
Bequest of Whitney Warren, Jr. in memory of Mrs. Adolph B. Spreckels1988.10.6

Portrait of Madame Pages in Evening Dress

Portrait of Mrs. Whitney Warren, Sr.
Oil on canvas
60 x 33 (152.4 x 83.8 cm) inches
Bequest of Whitney Warren, Jr. in memory of Mrs. Adolph B. Spreckels1988.10.8

Mrs. Howard-Jouhston (Dolly Baird of Dunbarton) 

Marchesa Luisa Casati, with a Greyhound

Madamoiselle de Nemindoff

M.lle Laure

Madame Charles Max

Rita de Acosta Lydig

Bust of Isa

Head of a Woman
c. 1910-1915

Mlle. de Gillespie, 'La Dame de Biarritz'

Madame Juillard In Red
Giovanni Boldini -- Italian-French portrait painter

Donna Franca Florio Portrait

Lina Bilitis, with Two Pekinese

La marchesa Luisa Casati con penne di pavone
(Portrait of the Marquise with peacock pens)

La Signora in Rosa
(Emilia Concha de Fontecilla)

Signora in abito rosso
c. 1916

Figura Femminile
c. 1920

Scena galante
c. 1920

Donna Franca Florio 
c 1921

Portrait of Donna Franca Florio

Madame Marie-Louise Herouet

Naked Young Lady with Blanket

Nude of Young Lady on Couch

Symphony in Gray 

Reclining Nude

Reclining Nude (2)

Nudino Scattante
(Nude Casting Off)

Alla Toeletta

A Lady with a Cat


By:  Natasha Wallace
Copyright 1998-2005 all rights reserved
Created: 10/15/2001


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