There certainly haven’t been shortage of Boldini exhibitions over the past few years. We had one in Rome, one in Turin, one in Barletta. Ferrara, birthplace of the painter, hosted two: Boldini e la moda in 2019 and Boldini. Dal disegno al dipinto. Attorno alla Contessa de Leusse this year. And it was only three months ago that Rovereto’s Mart closed Giovanni Boldini – Il Piacere. In short, I didn’t go to the opening of Bologna’s own Boldini – Lo sguardo dell’anima, hosted by Palazzo Albergati until March 2022, expecting to be blown away. But I did find an exhibition worth watching.
For those who don’t know him, Giovanni Boldini, who died 90 years ago, was the favorite portrait artist of Paris before and during La Belle Époque. Born in Ferrara, formed in Florence where he studied at art school and also learned from the Macchiaioli movement, he worked for a year in London and then moved to Paris in 1871, already with a solid reputation as a maestro. In the French capital, Boldini immediately became a favorite of the high society and a connoisseur of the bohemian circles, and had both the talent and the fortune to witness, and often portray, the optimism, vivacity and electricity that were circulating in Paris between the end of the Eighteenth century and the beginning of the Twentieth.
Considering that they were the great majority of the painter’s subjects, it is not surprising that this exhibition organized by Arthemisia and curated by Tiziano Pancon mostly focuses on women. On the other hand, it is quite difficult to have enough of Boldini’s female portraits: elegant, stylish, always radiating grace and composure, impeccably poised even when captured in a moment of lust or licentiousness, serenely confident and aware of their own charm, they simply are a joy to watch.
According to the curator, Boldini spent long sessions with his subjects and asked many questions in order to capture not only the appearance but also the soul (hence the exhibitions’s tag “Lo sguardo nell’anima“) of his magnificent subjects. And yet it is the aesthetic what undoubtably captures the eye and says a lot about both the artist and the era he was part of. With Boldini it is always a feast of long necks and pearly white complexions, a celebration of long gloves and feathered fans, of delicate aloofness and dressed-up poise.
A small but intriguing number of works is dedicated to the painter’s second lover Countess Gabrielle de Rasty and her most intimate and sensual portraits, such as Countess Gabrielle de Rasty Reclining (c. 1880), where the opalescence of textures and the grace of the pose only add up to the erotic magnetism of the subject. Other relevant works on display are The Blouse of Voile (c. 1906), Mademoiselle De Nemidoff (1908), Portrait of the Actress Alice Regnault (1884), Countess Beatrice Susanna Henriette van Van Bylandt (1903).
The exhibition also host a small selection of works from contemporary and sometimes akin artists such as Zandomeneghi, Corcos, De Jonghe. The small frescoed rooms of elegant Palazzo Albergati are a perfect setting to the 90 works, divided into seven sections, of this exhibition, that is just as easy to understand as it is a pleasure to see. A radiant little flare to brighten up an cold winter day.
Boldini – Lo sguardo nell’anima
’till March 13th 2022
Via Saragozza 28