In 1867 Boldini attended the Exposition Universelle in Paris. It was his first visit to Paris and it was to have a lasting effect on the young artist's career. Following a brief stay in London in 1871, Boldini moved permanently to Paris and became immersed in the artistic life of the city. He befriended Degas, Manet and Sisley and quickly found an audience for his work among French and foreign collectors. He was given an exclusive contract with the Parisian art dealer Adolphe Goupil, who was the pre-eminent art dealer of the era and handled such notable contemporaries as Bouguereau and Gérome. Goupil's confidence in Boldini's talents was confirmed in 1874 when the young artist was accepted into the Salon for the first time.
The Love Letter was painted just one year after Boldini's move to Paris and two years before his debut at the Salon. It is a prime example of his work from this important phase of his career. Painted on the small scale that Boldini favored during this period, pictures like The Love Letter came to be referred to as "cabinet" pieces. They owed much of their inspiration to the work of Meissonier and Fortunym, whose tightly painted interior scenes were in high demand at the time. They were also inspired by the conversation pieces of Gainsborough which Boldini had seen on his visit to London, and by the works of Watteau and Fragonard.
Deftly painted in watercolor, The Love Letter shows two fashionably-dressed women in an elegant interior, discussing a letter which rests on the table before them. Tightly painted, meticulously detailed, and bejeweled with rich color, the painting is typical of Boldini's work from the 1870s. The compositions from this period frequently featured elegant men and women attending to their daily activities: reading, writing, walking in gardens or calling on friends. Sometimes solitary and sometimes in groups, the figures are naturalistically posed and caught unawares as they go about their business (e.g. fig. 1). Boldini was as proficient in watercolor as he was with oil, and these works helped to install him as one of the greatest artists of the era. At the end of the decade, he saw himself honored as a member of the Société des Artistes Français and his career was fully established.
(fig. 1) Giovanni Boldini, Elegant Figures in an Interior