"Once time has established values in their correct order, Boldini will be recognized 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 (V. Doria, Il Genio di Boldini, Bologna, n.d., p. 120)
La Belle Époque characterized a period of profound cultural and social change, a time when the Parisian Salons of the elite, such as those of the Countess de Rasty and the Countess Greffulhe, were filled not only with aristocrats but increasingly with the artists, dancers, musicians and coquettes of the demi-monde. If Marcel Proust and Emile Zola caught this twilight world in words, Boldini captured it in paint. To quote Bernard Berenson: "An expert on 'society', Boldini perfectly captured the female elegance of the era. The compelling enchantment of his portraits reveal not only the sure, impulsive qualities of the painter, but also a certain satirical bite" (Giorni d'autunno in Romagna, Pellegrinaggi d'Arte, 1958).
Boldini's bravura painting technique combined with the influence of 'Grand Manner' portraiture, distinguished him from conservative studio artists such as Eugène Amaury-Duval and Léon Bonnat. His flamboyant style was quickly appreciated by an increasingly fashion-conscious society, not only in France, but throughout Europe. Boldini's portraits of Verdi, Montesquiou, Whistler, Consuelo Vanderbilt, the Duchess of Marlborough, and the Marchesa Casati confirm his position as the supreme portraitist of the Belle Époque.
Boldini, upon finishing the portrait of Emiliana Concha de Ossa, granddaughter of the Chilean diplomat Luis Subercaseux, decided to keep it for himself as he was very fond of the work (fig. 1). Regarding this portrait, which was exhibited at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris and won the Gold Medal, Boldini's close friend De Pisis quoted him saying 'il ritratto mi piaceva troppo, l'ho tenuto io!' (De Pisis, 1925). Following Boldini's death, his wife donated the pastel to the Italian government where it is now on permanent exhibition at the Galleria dell' Arte Moderna in Milan. The present pastel is the second version executed by Boldini and this time it was intended for the sitter to keep. Other than these two finished versions which are almost identical there four documented sketches - all produced in different mediums.
In contrast to his later 1890's portraits, Boldini chose to work with a more limited palette for the present work. He replaced his standard visual effects of juxtaposed bright colors with translucent whites and creams, the luminescent swirls building up the volume of her gown and person. An air of sweetness and naïvité about the sitter is combined with a strong sense of timidness, particularly emphasized by her clasped fingers. The arabesque roccoco background amplifies her playfulness and impatience.