Giovanni BOLDINI

(Ferrara 1842 - Paris 1931)

Two Drawings of the Audience at a Parisian Theatre

a. Pencil, drawn on a page from a small sketchbook.
Inscribed (by Emilia Cardona Boldini) no 154n atelier Boldini / Emilia Boldini-Cardona / 1937 on the verso.
93 x 150 mm. (3 5/8 x 7/8 in.)

b. Pencil, drawn on a page from a small sketchbook.
Inscribed (by Emilia Cardona Boldini) no 43e atelier Boldini. – Emilia Boldini Cardona / 1937 on the verso.
93 x 150 mm. (3 5/8 x 7/8 in.)

These two sketchbook drawings are related to a series of compositions of a Parisian theatre audience, viewed from the orchestra pit, in which the scroll and tuning pegs of a cello is a prominent element in the immediate foreground. A pair of pencil sketches for this composition, also from a small sketchbook, are in the collection of the Museo Boldini in Ferrara, which also houses an unfinished pastel study for the same composition. A fluid oil sketch was sold at an auction of the some of the contents of Boldini’s studio in 1933 and is today in a private collection, as is another unfinished pastel study for the same composition.

These various sketches and studies - in pencil, pastel and oil - culminated in a large finished pastel of c.1886, today in a private collection. In each of these works, Boldini focuses his attentions not on the performance itself or the musicians, but on the characters in the audience, viewed from an unusual vantage point in a manner akin to some of the theatre paintings of his friend Degas.

The son of a minor painter and restorer in Ferrara, Giovanni Boldini arrived in 1864 in Florence, where he enrolled in the Accademia di Belle Arti. He first exhibited his work in Florence in 1867, and in the same year visited the Exposition Universelle in Paris. From the earliest years of his career he displayed a remarkable talent as a portrait painter. During a trip to London in 1870 he obtained several portrait commissions, and by October 1871 he had settled in Paris, taking a studio on the Place Pigalle, and making his public debut at the Salon de Mars in 1874. Boldini’s bold, fluid style of painting was to prove immensely popular in Paris.

In the late 1870’s and early 1880’s he produced genre paintings of elegantly dressed women portrayed in lavish interiors - subjects made popular by Alfred Stevens and James Tissot - and these works found a ready market in England and America through the efforts of the Parisian art dealer Adolphe Goupil. By the time he moved to a new studio in 1885, however, he had begun to paint society portraits, and soon developed a formidable reputation for his dazzling, elegant depictions of the fashionable women of Paris, painted with a virtuoso technique of bold, fluid brushstrokes. Within a few years Boldini had risen to a position of prominence in Parisian art circles. He befriended other society portrait painters such as Paul-César Helleu, John Singer Sargent and James A. McNeill Whistler, and became a close friend of Edgar Degas, who is said to have once told the artist, “Vous êtes un monstre de talent!”.

By the turn of the century Boudin had become the most sought-after portrait painter in Paris, achieving such success that his reputation rivalled that of his friend Sargent in London. His fame reached as far as America, from where he received several portrait commissions, stimulated by an exhibition of his work held at Boussod, Valadon and Co. in New York in 1897.

Boldini was a gifted and somewhat compulsive draughtsman, and filled many sketchbooks with drawings. (He would also use whatever paper came to hand, and there are examples of quick sketches drawn on menu covers, receipts, ledger paper, postcards, hotel stationery, pages torn from auction catalogues, and so forth.) His drawings, characterized by a restless energy and a spirited technique wholly in keeping with the bravura brushwork of his oil paintings, range from quick sketches of figures, landscapes, buildings and objects to more elaborate studies of these same motifs. As Richard Kendall has recently written, ‘Evident in almost all of [Boldini’s drawings] is a vivid engagement with the pleasures of looking and with the nervous exuberance of the drawing process, irrespective of the chosen subject…Some of these drawings would have taken only minutes or even seconds to complete, while others are the work of hours of concentrated labor…This engagement was vividly physical and sensuous, as his hand erupted in wild flourishes of pencil, pen and ink, crayon, and charcoal, or opted for extreme delicacy as the situation demanded.’ The largest surviving group of drawings by Boldini, bequeathed by the artist’s widow, is today in the collection of the Museo Boldini in Ferrara.


Among the contents of Boldini’s Paris studio at the time of his death The artist’s widow, Emilia Cardona Boldini, Ferrara By descent to her nephew, Mario Murari Private collection, Pistoia.


Vito Doria, Boldini: Inedito / Inédit / Unpublished work, Bologna, 1982, p.24 (b. only, illustrated in reverse); Pietro M. Bardi, ‘Da ‘Boldini e il suo tempo”’, in Milan, Palazzo della Permanente, Boldini, exhibition catalogue, 1989, both drawings illustrated p.49; Piero Dini and Francesca Dini, Giovanni Boldini 1842-1931: Catalogo ragionato. Vol.I: La vita e l’iter artistico, Turin, 2002, p.248, fig.D15 (b only); Tiziano Panconi, ed., Boldini Mon Amour: opere note e mai viste, nuove scoperte, fotografie e documenti inediti, exhibition catalogue, Montecatini Terme, 2008, illustrated pp.430 and 433; Bianca Doria, I disegni di Giovanni Boldini. Catalogo generale: Disegni dagli Archivi Boldini, Bologna, 2011, unpaginated, nos.1464 and 1517.

Giovanni BOLDINI

Two Drawings of the Audience at a Parisian Theatre