Monday, November 8, 2010

Giovanni Boldini The King Of Swish

'Portrait of a Lady'

Continuing with the theme of fashion inspired by history, I thought I would do a post on one of my favourite painter's Giovanni Boldini.  Anybody who was anybody at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century had their portrait painted by him, he was the Mario Testino of his day.  His works continue to inspire.


Giovanni Boldini enjoyed a long and successful artistic career (b.1842 - d.1931). Born in Ferrara, Italy in 1842 and trained on the Italian Renaissance masters from childhood with his religious artist-father, Antonio Boldini.

He also studied under other accomplished artists, gaining a reputation even at that young age as an accomplished portrait painter. He then studied in Florence at the age of 20, at the Scuola del nudo (the School of Nudes), a subject he would return to only in old age.

 'Lady In Red'

 Giovanni combined work and study for many years, training in Paris and London, and Holland and Germany. He moved to Paris but continued traveling for his work. He developed his own, distinct style, and his portraits grew in fame, helped greatly by a portrait commissioned by Giuseppe Verdi in 1886, the biggest celebrity of his day.

Verdi gave Boldini an introduction into the world of opera, which led to many commissions for portraits, and to many intimate paintings of opera fans in theatres and cafes around Europe.

 'Spanish Dancer at the Moulin Rouge'

You can see his paintings in museums around the world, including the N.Y. Metropolitan Museum, the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco, and the National Gallery of Australia. And his paintings are reproduced on prints, posters and greeting cards.

But most of Boldini's paintings remain in private collections. This is because most of his paintings were commissioned portraits, society portraits. Everyone who was anyone HAD to have their portrait (or their wife's portrait) painted by Boldini.

'Ritratto Di Lady Michelham'

Boldini's paintings showed his subject in soft-focus, elongated, in movement, alive, and sophisticated. He was even dubbed the King of Swish, and looking at his portraits of women, you can see why. His portraits were flattering.

 The brush work on his paintings was swift and bold. It is the masterful brushwork that gives his paintings the sense of motion.

'Testa di Giovane'

   He also painted landscapes in the naturalistic style of his day, influenced by the Macchiaioli schooled artists he knew in Florence, and worked on engravings, with pastels, watercolors and etchings. Only toward the end of his long life, did his style change, becoming more impressionistic (possibly due to his failing eyesight), using mainly dark, rich colors.

His subjects changed as well. He no longer relied on portraits for a living, so he began painting subjects he wanted to paint, which seemed to be lots of nude women. Perhaps this was just his Italian nature exerting itself, and a return to his preferred youthful choice of subject.
 'The Black Sash'

Another change that came late in life was the bachelor Boldini finally married. To quote from a magazine article:

In 1929, aged 86, he suddenly married. At his wedding breakfast he made a little speech:
"It is not my fault if I am so old, it's something which has happened to me all at once."

'Reclining Nude 2'

 'Cleo de Morode'

'Consuelo Duchess of Marlborough with her Son, Ivor Spencer Churchill'

'Marchesa Luisa Casati with a Greyhound' Go here to find out more about her.

'Madame Juillard in red'

'Mademoiselle de Nemidoff'

'Ritratto di Suzy'

 'Gladis Deacon'

'La Femme en Rouge'

 'Donna Franco Florio'

 'Rita de Acosta'

'Lina Caverlieri' Go here to read all about her.

'Princess Marthe-Lucile Bibesco'

 'Lady Bilitis with two Pekinese'

'The Pansies'
I love this painting it looks like the subject was picking them up, off the stage, after a successful performance at the opera or ballet.

'John Singer Sargent'

'Giuseppe Verdi'
The breakthrough portrait which launched his career

Boldini at his easel

Whilst doing my research for this post I read, fairly recently in a house in Pigalle, Paris, which had been locked up and left empty for over seventy years a Boldini was discovered amongst the cobwebs, it sold at auction for 2.1 million euros.  If you don't have one languishing in your attic you can always order a hand painted reproduction for a fraction of the cost from here.

I would like to thank the wonderful and talented Mrs Jones for inspiring me to do this post, to find out what's been inspiring Mrs Jones visit her fabulous blog here.


  1. Wonderful !
    I love the quote, I totally agree, it happens to you all at once !
    I have great fondness for these sorts of paintings ..

  2. Great post on the King of Swish. How ironic that he was all the rage, then his style fell out of fashion, and now 100 years later we can appreciate his work anew.

    I see his portraits as sort of John Singer Sargent, but on crack.

    Yes, I would love to find one of these hidden away for decades in the attic...but I don't have an attic.

  3. I have seen some of these in person and they take my breath away every single time. Wonderful, wonderful post!! It made my Monday morning inspiring and beautiful! Thank you!

  4. These portraits are divine.
    Each one has such a different feel to it, and the fashions are as fabulous as are the subjects.

    Wouldn't it be fun to dress up and sit for such a talented artist?

  5. I love Boldini, the paintings are gorgeous. I've seen a few in the flesh and was surprised how large they were. I wonder if Gladis Deacon is any relation to Giles?! Thank you for the link. I hope you're good. I've been hibernating today but have to go out now. Thankfully I shall be going in a taxi. I'm such a wimp! xx

  6. These were beautiful, as were the photps of vintage clothing in your previous post. I admit to being a bit envious of your library. I hope you are well.

  7. Wonderful portraits, but I had not heard of him before. Will keep an eye open to see more. Would love to have him paint me! How sexy are all those women!

  8. Highly enjoyable post, thank you very much.

  9. You've put together a comprehensive profile here. His work was so energetic and lively. I read about that house in Paris and find it hard to fathom how that apartment languished undiscovered for so long.

  10. Thank you so very much for this post...every one is more beautiful than the next.

  11. Christian Dior's mother was an ardent fan of Boldini and that influenced Dior a lot too before the New Look.

  12. Thank you for this inspiring post! The paintings are so full of life. I love how the accessories in each painting are highlighted.

  13. Hey Love,
    Thank you so much for that, i have not seen many of those paintings before so you have inspired me back.
    i love how he painted fabric,How beautiful he made fashion look. I am working on a firework dress at the moment. Loving the red.. I too wondered if that could of been Giles grandmother for a moment.
    Thanks again

  14. Dear Ms. Dash: Thanks for your wonderful tribute to Mr. first encounter with his work was not his well known portraiture, but rather at the Philadelphia Museum of fine art where there is THE MOST INCREDIBLE LANDSCAPE painting by this "King of Swish" You cannot image how beautiful and sublime this work is. (A pastoral Italian vista with peasants trailing their carts toward a distant town...under a most moving cloud filled sky). Absolutely breathtaking. I urge you to seek it out and see for yourself that there is a whole other dimension to the King, every bit the equal of Sisley and others. Yours Truly, T. D'Arrigo

  15. Oh! I'm so happy I found this post! You have a beautiful and inspiring blog! I absolutely love this artist! And am so inspired by his work! I just saw one of his paintings on Pinterst and fell in love with his work! Thank you!

  16. Hello! Your blog is gorgeous. I just found it. I wanted to ask you about the Lartigue photo you have posted. I'm trying to gain permission from the Lartigue Foundation to use that photo and I've had no luck. Can you tell me if you contacted anyone there? Also, are you on Instagram? I want to credit you. Thanks, Liza


Thank you for visiting French Sampler, I hope you come back soon. I love to read your comments and will reply as soon as I can.