Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

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Giovanni Boldini - Portrait Artist




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 What an honor it would be if Giovanni Boldini, Zanin to his friends, knew his portrait hung in the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, his old stomping and training ground. 

Quite an honor for a young man from Ferrara, 8th of 13 children, son of a classical painter.

And he was honored in France with the Legion d'Honneur for his management of the Italian Section of the Paris Exposition of 1889.

Boldini was know in his circle of friends as a small (he was very short) bon-vivant.  He loved good company, good food, good wine, fine clothes and beautiful women.  Sounds like a typical Italian man. 

This was the period of his greatest fame, as a belle-époque portraitist.  To reach the tops of his large canvases, he either sat on a stack of telephone books, or climbed a ladder he kept in his studio in Paris.

His character was patient and intense when working, often covered in paint, eccentric and childlike when not working.  Everyone described him as loveable and Latin-tempered.

He liked lots of praise and compliments from his sitters while working on their portraits.  He wanted very much to please his portrait subjects, which made him a very popular portraitist. 

The only books I've seen about Boldini are either out of print, or from Rizzoli, the Italian publisher.  Best to visit a Rizzoli bookstore and look at the book to see if it's worth the nearly 300 US$ that seems to be the price-tag!


This photograph of Giovanni Boldini is from 1910. 


This is one of my Boldini favorites.


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.

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. 

You can see his paintings in museums around the world, including the N.Y. Metropolitan Museum, the Musée 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.

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, and it looked like the women had just turned around to look at him seductively, their dress swishing around them.


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

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.

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.”

He died of pneumonia while in Paris, and is buried in his hometown of Ferrara, Italy.


Actress Sarah Bernhart





Mrs. Drexel


Madame Leclanche



Princess Bubesco



Artist Toulouse Lautrec






1903 Miss Bell


1888 Emiliana Conca de Ossa 





Paris street scene




For a wonderful gallery of Boldini's work, including some of his late nudes, visit the ARC site.

The Giovanni Boldini Site offers a lovely gallery, and a biography that was lifted from this page (please add a link back to my site!), which I'll take as a compliment.

For a copy of the 1933 Time Magazine article about Boldini the portrait painter, visit this gallery/site.  The article appears after the biography.