Back in April of this year, Don Gardi posted a portrait on the Pastel of America Facebook site – “Girl in a Black Hat” by Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Not only was this a stunning pastel but it was by an artist I was only vaguely familiar with. I was so impressed with the portrait I thought I’d share a close look at it with you. Here’s the portrait:
Giovanni Boldini, “Girl In A Black Hat,” 1890, pastel on paper, 23 1/4 x 13 in (59 x 33 cm), Private Collection
Stunning isn’t it?! The combination of energetic marks and the delicate work in the face took my breath away. It has a very contemporary feel to it yet was done in 1890! And have you noticed how much black pastel he used?!
Boldini was born in Italy but after studying in various countries in Europe, he made his home in Paris. He is most known for his portraits of elegant and beautiful women, becoming the foremost portrait artist in Paris in the 1890s. In 1933, he was dubbed the “Master of Swish” in a Time magazine article.
Okay, back to the “Girl in a Black Hat.”
Giovanni Boldini, “Girl in a Black Hat” – detail. This is a fabulous example of an artist using negative space to carve out the contour of the object. Look at how Boldini used the light blue pastel to create the contour of the black hat. He applied it thickly over the turquoise colour beneath.
Giovanni Boldini, “Girl in a Black Hat” – detail of ear. One of the most difficult transitions in a portrait is that between skin and the hair on the head. Look at how Boldini first indicated the hair then softened the transition by pulling the white of the skin over the place where hair meets skin. You can also see that he indicated the top of the ear where previously it appears the hair covered the top of the ear.
Giovanni Boldini, “Girl in a Black Hat” – detail of the material that held the hat on the head. With just a few strokes in a light purply pastel, Boldini indicated the material that wrapped around the neck to hold the hat in place. This material appears to cascade down as seen in the next image.
Giovanni Boldini, “Girl in a Black Hat” – detail of material. Although it’s unclear whether this material is part of the hat (I believe it is) or the dress, you can reach out and touch its translucency. Boldin delicately inscribed the pale purple pastel like a veil over the black to give us the sense of the fabric.
Giovanni Boldini, “Girl in a Black Hat” – detail of the girl’s hair and eyes. How easily Boldini created the red hair of his model. I love the way a few dark lines represent wisps on the right side and a few lines of burnt orange reveal the escaping strands over her eyes. And those eyes! Beautifully and confidently depicted.
Giovanni Boldini, “Girl in a Black Hat” – detail of mouth, chin and neck. Look at the way Boldini applied the same light purple pastel to the neck and to the left side of the face as he used in the highlights of the dark fabric. On her cheek, it reveals the light reflecting on the face from the dark material of her dress.
Giovanni Boldini, “Girl in a Black Hat” – detail of the girl’s shoulder. The shoulder barely suggested by a contour line and the folds of the dress coming from her underarm. There is a straight line cutting across near the top of the shoulder. Why is it there? Does it indicate where Boldini thought the pastel might be cropped?
Giovanni Boldini, “Girl in a Black Hat” – detail. Here we can compare the delicacy of the face with the vigorous strokes of the background. These hatchings gives the whole painting a strength it may not have had with a more gentle handling. The robust lines also give the girl a sense of vitality and assurance. What do you think?
I couldn’t find any information about the painting other than the basic facts regarding medium and size. Who is this young woman? Was the pastel produced in preparation for a full scale painting? I’d sure love to know! In 1890, Boldini painted two portraits of John Singer Sargent who was living at the time in London. This would suggest that Boldini was in England when he produced the “Girl in the Black Hat” so perhaps the young woman is an ‘english rose.’
Well that’s it for now. I’d love to hear what you think about the portrait. Are there things you’d like to point out that I haven’t? I encourage you to do so!
Until next time,
PS. Fearful of the Nazis, a young woman fled her Parisian apartment, locking it up and apparently never returning. In 2010, the executors of a will discovered the existence of the apartment and had it opened. In it, they found many artworks and most importantly, an unknown painting by Boldini. To read more, click here and here. You will note some conflicting dates: the date Marthe de Florian fled Paris and the date the painting was created. I have taken the date of the painting as 1888 when Marthe de Florian was 24 years old. Apparently, she and Boldini were lovers (which might explain the rather sensuous quality of the painting!) And yes, Boldini would have been 46 years old.
Here’s the painting they found. It will certainly give you an idea of Boldini’s style – such lush and vigorous brushstrokes!
Giovanni Boldini, “Portrait of Marthe de Florian, 1888?, oil on canvas, size unknown, Private Collection. The darker area at the bottom of the painting and the placement of Boldini’s signature suggest to me that the painting was originally cropped under his name, cropped by wrapping the canvas around the stretcher bars rather than being cut. As with the “Girl in a Black Hat,” I was unable to find much info on this painting, not even where it was auctioned.