Along with his contemporaries, John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, Giovanni Boldini was amongst the artists of choice for members of Victorian society wanting their portrait painted. His expressive style captures the energy and excitement of the era, whilst carefully detailing the high fashions of the day. Boldini painted many eminent sitters, of which the Duchess of Marlborough was surely foremost.
Born in New York, Consuelo Vanderbilt was a member of one of America's prestigious families. Her marriage to Charles Spencer-Churchill, the ninth Duke of Marlborough, was engineered by her parents to emphasise the family's social standing. Consuelo was secretly engaged to Winthrop Rutherfurd at the time and refused. It was only when her mother claimed that her health was suffering that Consuelo agreed to the marriage. It is reported that she stood weeping at the altar beneath her veil. The couple went on to have two sons, one of whom is included in another painting of the Duchess of Marlborough by Boldini, completed in 1906. They divorced in 1921, and Consuelo went on to marry Lt. Col. Jacques Balsan the same year.
The Duchess was famed for her beauty as well as her wealth, leading Sir J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, to write 'I would stand all day in the street to see Consuelo Marlborough get into her carriage.' Also painted by John Singer Sargent, Consuelo sat for Boldini several times. The present work shows the artist's characteristic muted palette and fluid brushstrokes. Shown in sophisticated and fashionable attire, the Duchess's face is pensive and still in contrast to the loose and dynamic background.