Sunday, July 9, 2017

Boldini's French Plein-Airs

I'm wondering how Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931) painted these pictures of dynamic street life. I assume they're painted from observation and not from photos. 


If I was tackling such a subject. I would rough in the composition on location. In another session I would have the model pose on a patio or sidewalk, then go back and finish up the background on the spot.


Same with this one. You could do it in sections. A groom could hold the harnessed horses in the same lighting as the background scene.


It's possible that this scene came readymade, but it's also possible he painted the house and trees of the river scene, and then grabbed the steamboats, rowboats, and ducks in other places and added them to the half finished painting.

I love the way Boldini is so playful and daring in his paint application. He appears to be using a variety of brushes: big ones, small ones, new ones, and old ones.



Sometimes students want their set of brushes to be all new and fresh, but experienced painters also cherish their worn, splayed brushes.

 This painting of a riverside laundry appears to be a plein-air study.


This related work is also small (13 x 20 inches), but it might have been completed in the studio using plein air sketches as reference notes. I'm just guessing here, and if anyone knows more about this, please share in the comments.

If indeed Boldini composited elements in these paintings, he would have started with the idea in sketch stage, and then built the picture from elements he found. It's like what Ansel Adams said about camera work: "You don't take a photograph, you make it."
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Book about the exhibit of Boldini's French Landscapes: Giovanni Boldini in Impressionist Paris (Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute)

3 comments:

Charley Parker said...
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Charley Parker said...

Wonderful post. Thanks. There is a beautiful Boldini landscape in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. If feels a bit finished (and large) to be painted on location, but it appears to be of a specific place:

It was loaned to the Clark for the exhibit from which the book you reference was prepared.

(Larger, but low quality image here from this article.)

Gavin said...

I was lucky enough to see a large Boldini exhibition in Rome this year. The details in some of his smaller paintings are quite exquisite, and it was interesting to see his change of style from this tight earlier work to a much looser style.
I suspect he sketched on location and finished up in the studio using these studies, perhaps with the exception of his portraits which he likely did entirely from life. I base this assumption on a few paintings where there are two versions: a loose study and a more carefully rendered one.