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October 14, 2022

Acquisition: Rare Wash Drawing by Giovanni Boldini

Giovanni Boldini, "Bust of Francesco I d'Este"

Giovanni Boldini, after Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Bust of Francesco I d'Este, c. 1890/1900
brown and blue washes on ivory wove paper
sheet: 45.5 x 30.4 cm (17 15/16 x 11 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Patrons' Permanent Fund
2021.31.1

The National Gallery of Art has acquired Bust of Francesco I d'Este (c. 1890/1900), a dynamic wash drawing by Italian portrait painter Giovanni Boldini (1842–1931). This rare work captures, in variations of brown and blue, Gian Lorenzo Bernini's (1598–1680) bust of the Duke of Modena, Francesco I d'Este (1610–1658), now in the Galleria Estense at Modena. Boldini created his work during the height of his success as a society portrait painter in Paris.

The dramatic curls and vigorous movement in the drapery found in Bernini's marble resonate with Boldini's equally theatrical style. The drawing portrays the head in full profile and exaggerates the essential features of the sculpture, eliminating the complication of the lace collar and the hint of armor. While broad loose brushstrokes dominate the area around the bust, the area below the mantle has been left mostly blank, except for a small drop of wash and the artist's signature.

The drawing relates to several works from the same period, such as those by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), with whom Boldini is often compared. Historically significant, the Bust of Francesco I d'Este helps explain the evolution of abstract form in the work of Italian artists of the period, from their very first attempts to the Macchiaioli and the futurists. These groups disengaged from representation in favor of a more extravagant personal gestural style.

The work joins three contemporary compositions by Boldini in the National Gallery's collection: a chalk portrait drawing, a drypoint portrait of James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), and an oil painting on wood. The drawing of Francesco I d’'ste exemplifies the artist's iconic style and sensibility, broadens the holdings of fin-de-siècle artists, and bridges the divide between earlier 19th-century impressionism and 20th-century modernism.

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