Boldini was born in Ferrara, the son of a painter of religious subjects, and in 1862 went to Florence for six years to study and pursue painting. He only infrequently attended classes at the Academy of Fine Arts, but in Florence, met other realist painters known as the Macchiaioli. Their influence is seen in Boldini's landscapes which show his spontaneous response to nature, although it is for his portraits that he became best known.
Moving to London, Boldini attained success as a portraitist. He completed portraits of premier members of society including Lady Holland and the Duchess of Westminster. From 1872 he lived in Paris, where he became a friend of Edgar Degas. He also became the most fashionable portrait painter in Paris in the late 19th century, with a dashing style of painting which shows some Impressionist influence but which most closely resembles the work of his contemporaries John Singer Sargent and Paul Helleu. He was nominated commissioner of the Italian section of the Paris Exposition in 1889, and received the Légion d'honneur for this appointment.
A Boldini portrait of his former muse Marthe de Florian, a French actress, was discovered in a Paris flat in late 2010, hidden away from view on the premises that were unvisited for 70 years. The portrait has never been listed, exhibited or published and the flat belonged to de Florian's granddaughter who went to live in the South of France at the outbreak of the Second World War and never returned. A love-note and a biographical reference to the work painted in 1888, when the actress was 24, cemented its authenticity. The full length portrait of the lady in the same clothing and accessories, but less provocative, hangs in the New Orleans Museum of Art.Giovanni Boldini is a character in the ballet Franca Florio, regina di Palermo, written in 2007 by the Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero, which depicts the story of Donna Franca, a famous Sicilian aristocrat whose exceptional beauty inspired him and many other artists, musicians, poets and emperors during the Belle Époque.
Boldini's instantly recognizable high energy brush stokes and his unapologetic passion for feminine glamour and fantasy makes him a true original.
Portait of Marchesa Luisa Casati, an extraordinary lady who inspired John Galliano to devote a whole collection to her spirit. Her accentric, over the top style and antics are legendary.
Portrait of French artist Toulouse-Lautrec
Portrait of American painter John Singer Sargent