Jean - Luc Baroni Ltd

Boldini Giovanni


Giovanni Boldini

Ferrara 1842-1931 Paris

Recto: Sketch of a Tree

Verso: A River Landscape with a Bridge, People Fishing and Washerwomen at work




Oil on panel. Signed Boldini in black paint at lower left.
267 by 350 mm. (10 by 13 in.)

Provenance: Jean-Gabriel Domergue (1889-1962); by descent in the family.

Born in Ferrara, Giovanni Boldini received his training from his father Antonio. His talent was soon recognized and, at the age of eighteen, he was already known in his native town as an accomplished portrait painter. Boldini travelled to Florence in 1862, where he formed close friendships with artists of the revolutionary movement of the Macchiaioli, such as Giovanni Fattori, Telemaco Signorini and Silvestro Lega. In 1871, following a trip to London, where the portraits of Gainsborough and Reynolds left an indelible mark on the artist, Boldini settled in Paris. In 1874 he exhibited for the first time at the Salon du Champ-de-Mars, winning public acclaim. In 1876, he travelled to Germany, where he met Adolf von Menzel, and to Holland, where he admired the portraiture of Frans Hals.  Around that time, Boldini started to paint portraits of beautiful society women. In fact, his bold, painterly technique and flamboyant style proved so popular with the increasingly fashion-conscious society, that, by the turn of the century, Boldini had become one of the leading portrait painters in Europe, achieving a success in Paris equal to that of his friend John Singer Sargent in London. Among his numerous portraits, those of Giuseppe Verdi, Whistler, Consuelo Vanderbilt, the Duchess of Marlborough, Count Robert de Montesquiou, Princess Bibesco and the Marchesa Casati, are but a few of the artist’s most famous sitters. Boldini befriended other society portrait painters such as Paul-César Helleu, James A. McNeill Whistler, and in particular Degas, who truly admired his work and once said of his friend: ‘Ce diable d’italien est un monstre de talent’. A tireless and extremely prolific painter and draughtsman, Boldini remained active to the very end of his life. In 1916, however, his eyesight began to deteriorate, and from 1927 he executed only charcoal drawings.

While Boldini owes his celebrity to his portraits, he began his career as a landscape painter with the Macchiaioli movement in Florence, and continued to work in this genre throughout his life. In this landscape, with thick, broad brushstrokes of vivid tones of blue, green, red, and touches of white, Boldini illustrates a tree, the details of which are sketched with delicate and vibrant touches of crisp, luminous paint. The bare wood shows as a background through the paint, adding texture to the composition, whilst the rapidly sketched strokes of foliage juxtapose against the picture’s surface to create an overwhelming sense of dynamism and movement. The verso depicts the Parisian countryside at noon. It is a scene of tranquillity - a shallow river runs beneath a stone bridge; a man in a white hat fishes from the bridge (his rod drawn in sgraffito), washerwomen launder clothes in the gently flowing water beneath, while a rider crosses the bridge on his horse. The composition is painted on an unprepared panel on which, in several places, the pencil sketch is visible beneath the paint.

Stylistically, this sketch compares well with a number of other similar works dating from the late 1880s and early 1890s, and in particular, with several panels of similar size executed in 1890, such as the Mercato in Piazza delle Erbe a Verona, in a private collection, Verona, Bassa Marea a Trouville, in a private collection, Ombrelloni sulla spiaggia, and others. Interestingly, these pictures and the present sketch are all executed on small panels, measuring about 27 by 35 cm, a size which Boldini, judging from the over 120 extant panels of this type, must have particularly favoured.

Jean Gabriel Domergue (1889-1962) was a painter, draughtsman and poster artist, as well as a friend of Boldini. It is said that he had assembled a good collection, among which were a number of drawings and paintings by the Italian Master. In 1955, he was made curator of the Musée Jacquemart-André. Until his death in 1962, he organised important exhibitions of works by Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Berthe Morisot and Goya. Domergue regarded himself as a pupil of Boldini, and such was his admiration of his teacher, that he had planned to hold an exhibition of the Italian artists’s work too. Unfortunately, his sudden death prevented the completion of this project. Nevertheless, an important retrospective of Boldini was held in Domergue’s honour at the Musée Jacquemart-André in 1963, one year after his death.

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