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Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931)
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price plus buy… Read more Once time has established values in their correct order, Boldini will be recognised as the greatest painter of the last century. The New School (of painting) derives from him, as he was the first to simplify lines and planes. (Gertrude Stein) To fully understand Giovanni Boldini's portraits it is necessary to take into consideration the paintings of the period in which they were created. The artist had known many of the more conservative portrait painters of the time from studying in Paris and Rome and visiting museums such as the Louvre, yet at the same time, he was sympathetic to the next generation of revolutionary painters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, and he also knew on a personal basis popular portraitists of their time, such as John Singer Sargent. It was this awareness of contemporary portrait painting that situates the importance of Boldini's oeuvre within the framework of modern painting, capturing the essence of the era's profound social and cultural change on canvas, as Emile Zola and Marcel Proust had done on paper. Then, as now, he captured the imagination of many artistic and literary luminaries, enjoying sustained success throughout his lifetime right up until the outbreak of the war. Among the many fabulous sitters that passed through his studio were blue-blooded aristocracy, South American heiresses (including the notorious Errazuriz and Subercaseaux families), famous opera singers, dancers, actresses and cocottes. Yet, as these beauties and their families clamoured to have themselves immortalised, the underlying genius of this artist was yet to be fully grasped. Benefiting from his involvement in the Macchiaioli movement from 1862 in Florence, he focused upon the new freedom of form and colour. As his talents developed so did his relationships with Impressionist artists, such as Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and Alfred Sisley as early as 1867, but it was not until the 1880s that he increasingly turned to pastel for his grand, fully worked society portraits. His technique in pastel may have been mildly influenced not only by Manet and Degas, but perhaps even more so by his contemporaries Giuseppe de Nittis and Federico Zandomeneghi. He worked in a broad, broken style of lights and darks to depict the costumes and settings of his portraits, thereby conveying the impression of movement. However, he concentrated on the faces with more precision. Although he treated their inherent difficulties differently, the beautifully odd angles, definite sense of immediacy and varying progressions between light and shade were all concerns shared by his contemporaries in the Macchiaioli and Impressionist movements. Along with John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, Boldini was the artist of choice for members of high society who wanted their portrait painted by one of the most modern artists in Europe. His flamboyant style was admired by an increasingly fashion-conscious society and his portraits of Giuseppe Verdi (Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Rome), Count Robert de Montesquiou (Musée d'Orsay), the Duchess of Marlborough and her son Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), and the Marchesa Luisa Casati (Private collection) confirm his position as the supreme portraitist of the Belle Epoque; his bravura technique perfectly captured the nervous energy and high fashion of the period. Drawing from his knowledge of the more traditional British portrait genre extolled by Sir Anthony van Dyck and later Sir Thomas Gainsborough, Boldini's portraits from the earlier part of his career were modelled in a similar way yet treated with the entirely contemporary artistic spirit of the time. 'La femme de Boldini', characterised by a combination of the 'swagger portrait' and the revolutionary progressive styles, is beautifully captured in this coquettish portrait of one of the infamously beautiful Chilean nieces of Boldini's distinguished patron Ramón Subercaseaux, the Chilean consul to Paris. Along with the pastel of her sister Emiliana, Il ritratto della signorina Concha de Ossa (lot 89) his is one of Boldini's most delicate and exquisite pastels, a portrait medium which would receive public acclaim, winning him a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris the subsequent year. Relaxing the pose slightly, her youthful figure rests upon her outstreched arm. Clothed in long black gloves her slender arms contrast dramatically with the arresting whiteness of her dress and skin, and with the striking green sash around her waist. With a startlingly masterful rendering of the medium, Boldini outlines the creases in the loose gloves about her elbows, and captures the textures of the feathered fan that she tentatively waves and the materials in which she is adorned. Glancing flirtatiously towards the viewer, she invites us into her glamorous world of youth and beauty. The combination of the finished full-length portrait genre with the delicate handling of the pastel results in a sublime work, less formal than Gainsborough, yet more dignified than a Degas. While this pastel is a prime example of the artist's more finished earlier works, La dame de Biarritz (Mlle. Gillespie, lot 88) is a striking example from some 14 years later. This portrait is one of only four important commissions for the artist during 1912, the other three being of Mrs. G. Blumenthal (Brooklyn Museum), Madame Josephina Alvear de Errazuriz (Private collection) and the Marchesa Dora di Rudini (location unknown). The latter portrait was the probable cause of this limited number of commissions as her erratic timekeeping eventually caused him to abandon the prolonged project. While Boldini had initially conceived the portrait of Madame Gillespie as a full-length composition, the final format was employed in other works after 1900, notably his self-portrait of the previous year (Museo Boldini, Ferrara). Having moved away from more finished full-lenght portraits, the artist seats this glamorous lady as she elegantly glances to one side. While she exudes high fashion and grace, her cyclamen dress falling suggestively from her shoulders, her modern cropped hair and jewellery, her pale skin and blushered cheeks with matching glossy lips are all painted with a wonderful combination of studied detailing and new energy. This painting perfectly illustrates how Boldinis's expressive technique had so fervently captured the so-called nervous energy and high fashion of the period. His later compositions were painted with an almost expressionist technique of impasto and strong and long brushstrokes almost to the point of abstarction. It was as Serge Lifar, the Ballets Russes choreographer, once said: 'useless to explain Boldini because he is a forerunner. It will take a century before magician of movement is fully understood and appreciated.'
Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931)

La dame de Biarritz (Mlle. Gillespie)

Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931)
La dame de Biarritz (Mlle. Gillespie)
signed and dated 'Boldini 1912' (lower left)
oil on canvas
51¼ x 38¼ in. (130.2 x 97.2 cm.)
Painted in 1912.
A gift from the artist to Baron Maurice de Rothschild.
Baron Maurice de Rothschild; his sale, Christie's, New York, 1 November 1995, lot 11.
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
E. Cardona, Boldini: parisien d'Italie, Milan, 1932, p. 145.
D. Cecchi, Boldini, Turin, 1962, p. 234.
C. Ragghianti & E. Camesasca, L'Opera Completa di Boldini, Rizzoli- Milan, 1970, p. 127, no. 499 (illustrated p. 126).
P. Mauries, Boldini, Milan, 1987, p. 112 (illustrated p. 113).
T. Panconi, Giovanni Boldini. L'uomo e la pittura, Pisa, 1998, p. 230, no. 147/F-10 (illustrated pp. 46 and 230).
B. Doria, Giovanni Boldini: Catalogo generale dagli archivi Boldini, Milan, 2000, no. 600.
P. Dini & F. Dini, Boldini: Catalogo ragionato, Turin-London-Venice, 2004, p. 539, no. 1041 (illustrated).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Boldini 1842-1931, 20 March-8 April 1933, no. 20 (as La Dame de Biarritz).
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