This rarely seen trademark portrait of Giovanni Boldini represents Helena (known as Ena) Wertheimer, one of the two daughters of the prominent London art dealer Asher Wertheimer and his wife, Flora Joseph. A year before this work was painted, Ena was depicted alongside her sister Betty (later Mrs Eustace Salaman, who has sometimes wrongly been identified as the sitter of this painting) in a dazzling double portrait by the family's close friend, John Singer Sargent (fig. 1, Tate Britain, London), one of 12 paintings commissioned by Wertheimer from the artist in 1898. The family's dining room, which housed eight of the 12 portraits, was nicknamed "Sargent's mess". Sargent painted Ena again three years later, in a painting commissioned by her father on the occasion of her marriage to Robert Mathias (also Tate Britain). Ena became herself a painter, and later a part of the Bloomsbury Circle.
Boldini's introduction to Wertheimer was no doubt made through Sargent, who was also a close friend of the Italian artist. Both painters were the leading exponents of an exuberant genre which redefined the swagger portrait and celebrated the gilded luxury, confidence and elegance of the belle époque elite. In female portraiture, this style was also often characterized by the strong sensuality which is exuded in this painting. The composition is marked by the sitter's sinuous stance, which exaggerates her tight waist and delicate fingers and is set into strong relief by the sharp verticals of the background. Yet despite this stylization, this remains an intimate portrait which exudes the natural affinity felt between sitter and artist -- two individuals at the pinnacle of the international art world and high society, who shared friendships and fashioned taste.