The “ Master of Swish ,” Giovanni Boldini, was born on the last day of the year, 1842, in Ferrara, Italy.

By Martina Tanga

The “Master of Swish,” Giovanni Boldini, was born on the last day of the year, 1842, in Ferrara, Italy. According to a 1933 Time magazine article, the Italian painter – who lived much of his life capturing the Parisian gentry – was given this moniker because of his fluid, flattering style of painting. The eighth of thirteen children, the young Boldini did not receive formal academic training. Rather, he learnt from his father, a painter of some repute in Ferrara. Just as he turned 22 years old, Boldini moved to Florence and there continued his self-taught artistic education by befriending the Macchiaolipainters: Vito D’Ancona, Giovanni Fattori, and Silvestro Lega. In their paintings they emphasized immediacy and freshness through loose brushwork and vivid colors. After a brief interlude in London, Boldini moved to Paris in 1871. He was to settle in this city of lights and paint portraits of premiere members of society and the cultural elite. 

Boldini’s paintings now hang in important museum collections across the globe. All except one, which was only recently re-discovered in 2010. It is a portrait of the actress and socialite Marthe de Florian – thought to have been Boldini’s lover. In the painting, Madame de Florian flirtatiously looks away from us; her silky pink dress abounds with ruffles and is as seductive as her pose. The painting hung in her fancy Parisian apartment, which Florian left to her granddaughter. During the chaos of WWII, Florian’s granddaughter fled Paris for the South of France, apparently never to return. The apartment thus remained frozen in time until it was discovered just a few years ago, and so too this stunning portrait of Madame de Florian.


Self-Por­trait, 1892, oil on canvas, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Hammock, 1874, oil on panel

Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi, 1888, crayon on paper

Lady Colin Campbell, 1897, oil on canvas

Madame de Florian, c. 1898, oil on canvas

Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, and Her Son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill, 1906, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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