Lines and Colors art blog

Giovanni Boldini

Giovanni Boldini
Giovanni Boldini was an Italian painter and printmaker, renowned for his fluid, sweeping portraits of society women. He is frequently associated with John Singer Sargent, sharing some of his dramatic, facile brushwork as well as his international lifestyle, living and working in Paris and London for much of his career.

Sargent and Boldini knew one another and moved in the same circles. Boldini took over a studio on Boulevard Berthier in Paris from Sargent when he moved to another. Boldini was also friends with Courbet, Manet and Degas, and apparently knew Whistler, at least well enough to paint his portrait.

Boldini encountered the Italian painters known as the Macchiaoli (also here), who were Italian precursors to Impressionism, in his early years in Florence. He infused their revolutionary ideas, along with those of the French Impressionists, into his academically strong portrait style and became, along with Sargent, one of the premiere portrait painters of his age.

Though most well known for his portraits, Boldini first came to my attention with a quietly striking landscape in the Philadelphia Museum of Art titled Highway of Combes-la-Ville (image above, center, with detail below, zoomable version here), which I think is absolutely beautiful.

The painting is an example of the kind of painterly realism that I particularly love, appearing almost photographic from a few feet away, but showing itself to be a gem of loose, painterly notation on close inspection. (Note: the close-up shown here is not available from any of the sources I list below, it’s from my own photo of the painting. See my post On taking photographs in museums.)

Boldini’s portrait style, in which the fluid lines of the sitters and their flowing garments are frequently cast against boldly unfinished (and strikingly modern) swaths of brushstrokes, earned him the nickname “Master of Swish”.

If you take the time to dig deeper into the online resources like Giovanni Boldini: The Complete Works (an inaccurate title, but still a useful resource), and Ciudad de la pintura, you will find a few examples of his refined and painterly landscapes as well.

There is a museum devoted to Boldini in his birthplace of Ferrara, Italy. It has co-organized an exhibit of the artist’s work, Giovanni Boldini in Impressionist Paris, that is at the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrera until January 10, 2010 (which also currently has an exhibit on Chardin, see my post on Chardin), and then travels to The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from February 14 to April 25, 2010.

[Exhibit listing via Art Knowledge News]


8 responses to “Giovanni Boldini”

  1. Another great post on an amazing artist I knew nothing about … any chance you could start including birth-death dates so that, at a glance, we know what era you’re writing about? I think it’d be useful all around.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Bram.

      I’ve considered it, but feel like giving birth dates as a standard part of every post on artists who are not contemporary would feel a bit dry and restrictive (and be extra work). I do try to give placement in time, either by mentioning their century (more often half-century) or by mentioning their association with artists whose position in time is well known. I also try to list resources that provide more details about the artist, including birth dates (in particular, the ones indicated as “bio”).

  2. Thanks for the great reminder Charley. I had intended to give this guy another look long ago and forgot all about him. How nice that we have one right here at our museum!

    1. Thanks, David. Hopefully, if you enjoy the kind of painterly portraiture exemplified by Boldini and Sargent, you got to see the wonderful exhibit of work by Cecilia Beaux at the Academy last spring. (If not, watch for her work in rotation of the Academy Museum’s permanent collection.)

      Other readers may want to check out “Blocking things in…” a group blog by David Golas and several other current students to at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

  3. Once in awhile I do some blog-hopping, usually other artists. I spent three hours here yesterday working my way backwards. I’m two months into 2008. It doesn’t get much better than this. I only wish I knew who sent me here, because this is absolutely fabulous. I’m learning about some great dead artists I’d never heard of, and some just as great ones that are still working! GREAT site you have!

  4. Agreed, great post, Charley.

    Readers who enjoyed discovering Boldini here might also enjoy the work of Paul Cesar Helleu, another artist who loved great-looking women during the era of unusually large hats. Helleu’s work can be found in various spots around the web.

    1. Great thought, Daniel. Thanks! Helleu is someone I haven’t gotten around to covering. Here is a quick resource on Wikimedia.

  5. Thanks, thanks, thanks for that closeup. It says so much about the picture. That’s why I love your web!!!