Curated by Barbara Guidi with the collaboration of Virginia Hill
“Boldini knew how to reproduce that dazzling feeling women wish to create when they are seen in their best moments.” With these words, Cecil Beaton, one of the most famous fashion photographers of the 20th century, acknowledged the talent of the Ferrarese painter in portraying the voluptuous elegance of the cosmopolitan elite of the Belle Époque, for knowing how to glorify their ambitions and their sophisticated narcissism.
Established in Paris, the centre of elegance and modernity, at the turn of the century, Boldini brought to life a formula for portraits that were chic and “à la mode” in which he immortalized his subjects and the celebrities of that legendary period, from Robert de Montesquiou to Cléo de Mérode, from Lina Cavalieri to the marchioness Casati.
In his works, fashion took on an essential role: what was first taken for being the quintessence of modern life, an element that fixes his work to modernity, fashion – meaning a dress, an accessory, but also a sophisticated expression that transforms the body into a place of desire – quickly became a key attribute for creating his distinctive portraits. Thanks to an eye-catching painting, which combines a quick and dynamic brushstrokes with an emphasis on poses that are both studied and sensual designed to show off as much the silhouettes of the models as the lines of their dresses, and with the help of the creations by great couturiers such as Worth, Doucet, Poiret and the Callot sisters, Boldini creates a personal variation on society portraits that becomes a true canon, a model of style and trends that anticipates the formulas and language of the cinema and of glamour photography in the 20th century.
The exhibition will therefore, for the first time, investigate the long and fruitful relationship between Boldini and the world of Parisian haute couture and the influences that this had on his portraiture as well as the work of painters such as Degas, Sargent, Whistler and Paul Helleu. Organized thematically, each section represented by writers who have sung of the greatness of fashion as an art form, from Baudelaire to Wilde, from Proust to D’Annunzio, the exhibition offers a fascinating journey through paintings, marvellous vintage clothing and iconic accessories that will show the relationship between art, fashion, and literature in the Belle Époque and which plunges the visitor into the sophisticated and sparkling atmosphere of the French capital and all its elegant hedonism.