This painting has been requested for the forthcoming Giovanni Boldini, 1842-1931 exhibition to be held at the Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid, September 2019 - January 2020.
‘In the risky art of accentuating, through the unforeseen movement, the unexpected, often daring pose, the grace and the seductive note of his models, Boldini knows no rivals’ – Franc¸ois Thie´bault-Sisson
For the glittering high society of the Belle Époque, a timeless depiction in the opulent style of Giovanni Boldini was the ultimate expression of beauty, wealth and status. The leading portraitist of fin-de-siècle Paris, the Italian-born Boldini distinguished himself from his contemporaries, such as John Singer Sargent and Paul César Helleu, through the exceptional vivacity that he imparted in every attenuated flourish of his brush. Throughout the 1880s, Boldini’s oeuvre was defined by his exceptional society portraits which have come to encapsulate the spirit of this hedonistic era of glamour and refined decadence; among the leading socialites, actresses and dancers who sat for the celebrated portraitist were Marchesa Luisa Casati, Consuelo Vanderbilt the Duchess of Marlborough, Count Robert de Montesquiou, and the famed dancer Cléo de Mérode.
Adorned in full-length splendour, sporting an elegant black dress and elaborate hat, and playfully clutching her umbrella with a self-assured smile, Portrait of Madame Roger-Jourdain presents the muse and famed socialite of Belle Époque Paris, Henriette Roger-Jourdain. She looks directly at the viewer, her gaze framed by her impeccably arched eyebrows. The daughter of artist Henri Moulignon, she went on to marry the landscape painter and pupil of Alexandre Cabanel, Joseph Roger-Jourdain. Together, the couple lived on the Boulevard Berthier in Paris’s bourgeois 17th arrondissement where they mixed with a fashionable coterie of artists, poets and musicians, including Boldini, Sargent, Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy. Frequent hosts of fashionable soirées, as well as art patrons, the Roger-Jourdains were firmly entrenched in the artistic milieu of Belle Époque Paris.
Much admired within this beau monde social circle, Madame Roger-Jourdain charmed and captured the imagination of those around her, inspiring musical compositions and portraits alike. In 1884 she sat for Sargent, and Fauré dedicated three works to her, including Nocturne [Op. 43, No 2], Aurore [Op 39. No. 1] and his Third Barcarolle [Op. 42]. She also posed for Ernest Duez, and for Albert Besnard, whose 1886 portrait of Madame Roger-Jourdain received critical acclaim in the Salon of that year, and now resides at the Musée d’Orsay. Prior to creating the present work, Boldini had also captured his sitter in a bust-length portrait, and so knew her features well.
Painted in 1889 at the height of Boldini’s fame, Portrait of Madame Roger-Jourdain encapsulates the style of portraiture for which he had gained international renown. Standing at over two metres high, its size imbuing the full-length portrayal of his sitter with an elongated elegance, this portrait perfectly demonstrates the artist’s distinctive handling of paint. Sweeping, light and vivid, Boldini’s brushwork enabled him to infuse his portraits with an unmistakable modernity and spontaneity; his light strokes capturing nuances of personality and gesture unique to his sitters, such as the gentle tilt of Madame Roger-Jourdain’s head, the subtly sensuous curve of her waist as she poses nonchalantly for the artist, and her delicate outstretched fingers playfully holding the umbrella. In addition, like the great society portraits of Thomas Gainsborough, Boldini relished in capturing the physiognomy and beauty of his sitters, as well as details of their elaborate and dashing attire. Here, with a series of long, rapid strokes, Boldini has rendered the diaphanous fabric of the black dress, catching the shimmering light that reflects from the ornate bow that adorns her neck. Likewise, he depicted the pale green coat with an innate sensitivity, the finely embroidered pattern depicted with effervescent touches.
In both style and subject matter, Portrait of Madame Roger-Jourdain embodies not only the glamour and opulence of Belle Époque Paris, but also continues the concerns of Boldini’s Impressionist contemporaries, Renoir and Degas, as well as Manet. In their quest to distil the essence of contemporary life in their painting, the Impressionists had turned to the inhabitants of the capital, capturing their modern dress, social rituals and customs. Fashion had become a major part of life in the modernising, cosmopolitan capital, with the figure of the Parisienne – a chic, fashionable young woman who had become one of the central and most iconic protagonists of Second Empire and Third Republic Paris – featuring frequently in Impressionist art. Continuing in this tradition, Boldini’s portraits encapsulated the energy of the times, distilling something of the idealised splendour of the city and the ostentatious allure of its inhabitants into painterly form, and in so doing, transforming women such as Henriette Roger-Jourdain into gilded icons of this legendary age.