Giovanni Boldini (31 December 1842 – 11 July 1931) was an Italian genre and portrait painter who lived and worked in Paris for most of his career. According to a 1933 article in Time magazine, he was known as the "Master of Swish" because of his flowing style of painting.
Giovanni Boldini was born in Ferrara, the son of a painter of religious subjects, and in 1862 went to Florence for six years to study and pursue painting and met there other realist painters known as the Macchiaioli, who were Italian precursors to Impressionism. Their influence is seen in Boldini's landscapes which show his spontaneous response to nature, although it is for his portraits that he became best known.
Moving to London, Boldini attained success as a portraitist. He completed portraits of premier members of society including Lady Holland and the Duchess of Westminster. From 1872 he lived in Paris, where he became a friend of Edgar Degas. He became the most fashionable portrait painter in Paris in the late 19th century, with a dashing style of painting which shows some Macchiaioli influence and a brio reminiscent of the work of younger artists, such as John Singer Sargent and Paul Helleu.
He was nominated commissioner of the Italian section of the Paris Exposition in 1889, and received the Légion d'honneur for this appointment. In 1897 he had a solo exhibition in New York. He participated in the Venice Biennale in 1895, 1903, 1905, and 1912.
The famous Giovanni Boldini's "Portrait of Franca Florio" was commissioned by Ignazio Florio. Boldini’s initial, beautifully provocative version, painted in 1901 was not approved of by Ignazio Florio. He reportedly found it risqué and "unnatural and unreal" looking and demanded that Boldini lengthen the dress and add full sleeves with wide black lace. Once Boldini had reworked the work to oblige his commissioner’s discontent it was exhibited at the 1903 Venice Biennial.
The portrait remained like this until 1924 when, with the demise of the Florio family’s wealth, Baron Maurice de Rothschild acquired it. Therefore, Rothschild engaged Boldini to restore it to its original sensual version. After two auction (Christie's 1995 and Sotheby's 2005), the painting has been on display at the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea in Palermo since 2006.
In 2017 it went to auction again. It is said that the necklace in the painting, with 365 pearls, one for each day of the year, was a present from the husband, begging forgiveness for his many affairs.
A Boldini portrait of his former muse Marthe de Florian, a French actress, was discovered in a Paris flat in late 2010, hidden away from view on the premises that were unvisited for over 50 years. The portrait has never been listed, exhibited or published and the flat belonged to de Florian's granddaughter, who inherited the flat after her father's death in 1966 and lived in the South of France after the outbreak of the Second World War and never returned to Paris. A love-note and a biographical reference to the work painted in 1888, when the actress was 24, cemented its authenticity. A full-length portrait of the lady in the same clothing and accessories, but less provocative, hangs in the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The discovery of his painting in the 70-years-empty apartment forms the background to Michelle Gable's 2014 novel A Paris Apartment.
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