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Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931)
Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931)

Portrait of Madame Arnold Seligmann

Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931)
Portrait of Madame Arnold Seligmann
signed and dated ‘Boldini 1900’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
57 7/8 x 38 ¼ in. (146.9 x 97.2 cm.)
Commissioned directly from the artist, 1900.
And thence by descent through the family.
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Exposition de la Femme 1800-1930, April-June 1948, no. 2.

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Lot Essay

Giovanni Boldini was known as the ‘magician of movement’ by his contemporaries. The artist painted portraits of his sitters with an exceptional combination of a conservative genre executed in an avant-garde manner. While Boldini 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, 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 the 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, 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.
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 Époque; 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.
From 1900 onwards Boldini’s painting was characterised by enormously confident brushwork, fluidly applied to flatter and elongate the human form, and to inject into his sitters a sense of dashing vigour - qualities visible in this painting.
The present work depicts Madame Georgette Seligman née Sussmann (1881-1929), wife of the famous art and antiquities dealer Arnold Seligman (1871-1935). The couple got married on 23 May 1899 and had two children: Armand and Jean. Madame Seligman was a member of the board of directors of the social service divisions of the Paris hospitals and, from 1920, President of L’Oeuvre de placement familial des tout-petits. She was awarded a silver medal from the Reconnaissance Française. The sitter looks at the viewer, sitting on a couple of bergères, in a shimmering satin dress and radiating the forthright expression of a woman who is approachable, successful and self-assured. The pose of the sitter, her arm raised as to prevent the fox stole from falling from her shoulders, appears at the same time sensual and sober. The contrast between the bold, fluid brushwork of the of the composition, and the plain background against which Boldini has set the sitter communicates both the calm and warmth of her character, while the subtle stress on certain motifs, such as her ring, and the beautiful peonies decorations on her dress, reinforces her social status and elegance.
While this portrait was painted, the gallery Jacques Seligmann & Co. was being moved from Rue de Sommerand to Place Vendôme and Arnold’s two brothers, Jacques and Simon joined the business as partners. This market a very favourable period for the family business who was then expanding its clientele among the most important art collectors of the time such as Edmond James de Rothschild, the Stroganov family, Benjamin Altman, William Randolph Hearst and J.P. Morgan. In 1912, a family quarrel resulted in a lawsuit that split the company. Arnold Seligmann remained the sole owner of the gallery in Place Vendôme which was then renamed Arnold Seligmann & Cie. 
Dott.ssa Francesca Dini suggests that the present work could be the painting presented by Boldini in the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 under the title ‘Portrait de M.me S.’. 
We are grateful to Dott.ssa Francesca Dini for having confirmed the authenticity of the present lot, which will be sold with a photo-certificate no. 002669.

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