Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Swirling Venuses by Giovanni Boldini

We posted a sensual picture of a couple by, largely forgotten but for a time hugely fashionable, Italian painter Giovanni Boldini over on the Seduction of Venus last summer.  Today we are going to look at some of his lovely nudes.

Boldini was born in Ferrara in 1842 and was trained in the traditional Renaissance style by his father, also an artist.  He showed great talent at an early age and was soon studying with other artists as well, before moving to Florence and studying at the Scuola del Nudo, part of the Accademia di Belle arti di Firenze, although he didn't attend classes regularly.

Nudo di donna seduta (C. 1882)

While in Florence he got to know group of artists known as the Macchiaioli, the Italian equivalent of the French impressionists, who were rejecting the traditional teaching of Italian art schools and were starting to do many of their paintings outdoors.  To them, the key elements of a painting were the areas of light and shade or macchie and although Boldini wasn't a formal follower of the movement their influence can be see in the bold contrasts in his paintings.

Boldini quickly built a reputation for his portraits which were a lucrative genre for him.  He kept studying and travelled to Germany, France, Holland and England, where he did a number of portraits of aristocratic ladies such as the Duchess of Westminster, while undertaking commission work.

Reclining nude on a day bed (1900)

In 1872 he moved to Paris, where he lived until his death.  He became a friend of Edgar Degas and painted his portrait, as well as those of other painters of the time such as Whistler, Toulouse-Lautrec and Sargent.

His fame was cemented when he was commissioned to do a portrait of composer Giuseppe Verdi.  This introduced him to the world of opera which resulted in more commissions of singers and actresses, including Sarah Bernhardt.

Lina Cavalieri by Boldini (1901)

Pierro Fornasetti (1913-1988) with his Lina plates

One singer he painted several times was the sultry soprano Lina Cavalieri (1874-1944), known at the time as "the most beautiful woman in the world" and the subject of hundreds of photographs.  You may recognise her image from a series of artworks done by Italian artist Piero Fornasetti who became obsessed with her in the fifties and I have seen reproductions of the plates he did of her in many a trendy hotel.

Cavalieri was a fashion icon and was at the forefront of the really tightly laced corset look at the beginning of the twentieth century.  She was also famous for her lovers and this provocative drawing by Boldini is supposed to be her, so their relationship may have been rather more than that of artist and model.

Portrait of Giovinetta Errazuriz (1892)

Boldini sometimes painted the children of his clients and this portrait of ten year old Giovinetta Errazuriz, the daughter of a prominent Chilean in Exile in Paris,  has the young lady looking grown up and assertive.  Boldini has her in a young child's bonnet and an adult woman's cape.  To the consternation of the  attendees of the Venice Biennale in 1897 she is showing a slice of thigh above her stocking. This caused a major scandal but was probably just Boldini indicating that she was an innocent who was, nevertheless, becoming a woman.  The elongated treatment of limbs and body is typical of Boldini's flowing style to the extent that he was known as the "king of swish".

Most of Boldini's paintings were in oils but here is a lively and provocative watercolour, demonstrating his rapid, loose brushwork very well.

Although Boldini had always painted nudes, towards the end of his life, when he no longer needed the money from constant portraits to sustain him, he returned to the subject almost exclusively.

His figures now, unusually, often depicted pubic hair but many of these pictures were painted for his own enjoyment rather than to be exhibited.

The inclusion of models wearing stockings also took them out of the purely academic arena and into something more enticing.

His drawing style became looser and looser but he is still paying attention to the macchie in his pictures.

His paintings, too, in the twenties got more and more impressionistic with the backgrounds becoming just patches of colour enthusiastically applied.

Eventually even the colour started to disappear as Boldini's eyesight began to deteriorate.  The paintings are becoming more and more exercises in light and shade.

 Young lady entering the bath

In the bath

These two bathing girls show that he had not lost his ability to render lovely female forms but show that their surroundings are only vaguely depicted.  Without knowing that both paintings have 'bath' in the title it would be difficult to work out what was going on.

Boldini didn't date his canvasses so it is difficult, except in a few cases to date them accurately.

Certainly, these canvases are from the last few years of his life, with the girl in black stockings dating to 1930.  A lifelong bachelor he got married in 1929 at the age of 86.  He died of pneumonia in July 1931 at the age of 88

Marthe de Florian

Forgotten for decades, he was back in the news in 2010.   One of his lovers was an actress called Marthe de Florian (1864-1939).  A lady of a certain reputation, she was also the lover of two presidents and two prime ministers of France, including Georges Clemenceau. She had an apartment in Paris and it was inherited by her granddaughter who fled the city in 1940 when the Germans invaded.  She never returned to the apartment and on her death, at the age of 91, in 2010 the apartment was opened for the first time in seventy years to reveal a time capsule of early twentieth century France and this portrait of Marthe de Florian by Boldini, together with a love letter from him to Marthe.  The portrait is typical of Boldini's flowing, sensual style and when it was sold at auction realised a record price for the artist of £1.78 million.