Giovanni Boldini (Ferrara 1842 - Paris 1931)

A Venetian Canal Sold

Oil and pencil on panel.
Inscribed no 173 inv. at. Boldini / Emilia Cardona Boldini / 1931 on the reverse.
350 x 267 mm. (13 3/4 x 10 1/2 in.)


Giovanni Boldini remained fond of Venice throughout his life, and returned often to the city on the lagoon. He first visited Venice in 1879 and, like both Whistler and Sargent before him, rented a studio in the Palazzo Rezzonico. He returned to Venice several times in the first decade of the 20th century, and was sometimes a guest of the Marchesa Luisa Casati at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. Boldini would explore the city in a gondola, often accompanied by the Marchesa Casati and the Comtesse d’Orsay, and would translate his impressions of the city into quick sketches in watercolour or small oil sketches on panel. He was often drawn towards the less populated areas of the city, and his Venetian subjects only rarely include figures. Instead he delighted in depicting the play of light on the waters of the canals, the distinctive forms of the gondolas, and the buildings of the floating city.

As one modern scholar has noted, at the time of an exhibition devoted to the artist’s drawings of Venice, ‘Boldini did not do just one portrait of Venice, but a hundred, and always with renewed passion...Venice must have fascinated Boldini because everywhere she offered him what his drawings most aptly express: movement and architecture. The play between sky and water, the bobbing of the gondolas, the lapping of the Rio, the variations in tone and color contrasting with the monumental stability of the palaces and the maze of canals crossing and defining each other, this solid presence of a city bathed in sea vapor...These drawings are not merely the record of a trip to Venice, but rather, the impassioned testimony of a great lover whom she bewitched with her endless, deep, powerful spell...after Guardi’s shimmering vedute, we have Giovanni Boldini, who has taken possession of Venice and recorded her sky, stones and water with his proud, untiring hand.’

The present view has been identified as the small Venetian canal known as the Rio di San Vio, as seen from the Ponte della Calcina, on the Zattere, looking towards the Grand Canal. The building at the left is the Pensione Saguso, while the palace in the distance behind the two bridges (one brown and the other white) is the Palazzo Loredan, now the Palazzo Cini, which today houses the Cini collection of Ferrarese paintings.

Among the contents of Boldini’s Paris studio at the time of his death in 1931
The artist’s widow, Emilia Cardona Boldini, Ferrara
Ludovico Cartotti, Lessona Biellese, by 1963
Mondial Gallery, Milan, in 1968
Private collection, Italy.

Carlo Ragghianti and Ettore Camesasca, L’opera completa di Boldini, Milan, 1970, pp.104-105, no.202; Bianca Doria, Giovanni Boldini: Catalogo generale dagli Archivi Boldini, Milan, 2000, Vol.I, no.269, Vol.II, pl.269 (where dated 1890)1; Piero Dini and Francesca Dini, Giovanni Boldini 1842-1931: Catalogo ragionato. Vol.III: Catalogo ragionato della pittura a olio con un’ampia selezione di pastelle e acquerelli, Turin, 2002, pp.314-315, no.577; Bertrand Galimard Flavigny, ‘Boldini à Venise’, Le Quotiduen juridique, 19 April 2013.

Giovanni BOLDINI

A Venetian Canal


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