The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Giovanni Boldini, 1845-1931

Nationality: Italian
Date of Birth: 1845.12.31
Place of Birth: Ferrarre
Date of Death: 1931.01.12
Place of Death: Paris


Giovanni Boldini was a portrait painter and etcher. His father Antonio Boldini (1799-1872) was also a painter. He married the journalist Emilia Cardona.


In 1871 Boldini settled in Paris, having already become renowned as a society portrait painter in Italy. Under contract to the art dealer Adolphe Goupil he painted landscapes, views of Parisian life and fancy costume pieces (e.g. Gossip, 1873; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). In 1874 he exhibited at the Salon du Champ-de-Mars, and received critical acclaim. Around this time he began to paint portraits of beautiful society women (e.g. Comtesse Gabrielle de Rasty Seated in an Armchair, ca 1878; Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York), and he became friends with other fashionable portrait painters such as Paul Cesar Helleu, John Singer Sargent and JW. In 1883-84, according to the artist Albert Ludovici, JW painted Olga Alberta, daughter of the Duchess of Carcciolo (Arrangement in Pink, Red and Purple (YMSM 324)). His interest in the sitter sparked that of Walter Sickert, Helleu and Boldini who also went on to paint her portrait. Boldini also painted JW's patron Lady Colin Campbell (c. 1893, National Portrait Gallery, London).

Around 1878-80 Boldini began to experiment with printmaking, producing a small number of etchings and drypoints. Edgar Degas' influence is apparent in some of his choices of theme, composition and technique. In the 1880s Boldini, like Degas, began to use pastel for large portraits. In 1889 Boldini travelled with Degas to Morrocco and Spain, where they admired the work of Velazquez.

In the 1880s and 1890s Boldini travelled extensively in Italy and Spain and visited London and New York. Like JW, Boldini was drawn to Venice, and he painted a number of evocative images of the city that recalled the work of Turner.

In the late 1890s the two men were in correspondence. Boldini painted JW's portrait in 1897 (Brooklyn Museum, New York). It was exhibited at the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers at the Skating Rink, Knightsbridge in May 1898 alongside a self-portrait of the President, Gold and Brown (YMSM 462). A number of Boldini's etchings were also shown alongside JW's. Boldini also made a drypoint of JW whilst he was posing for the oil portrait.


Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Reynolds, G. A. , Giovanni Boldini and Society Portraiture, 1880-1920, exhibition catalogue, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 1984; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995; Calingaert, Efrem Gisella, 'Giovanni Boldini', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 21 May 2002).