Boldini, fashion and the cosmopolitan élite of the Belle Époque

Cecil Beaton – one of the great photographers and costume designers of the 20th century – probably gave the best definition of Boldini, who painted portraits of the Belle Époque’s most elegant and iconic ladies, saying he “knew how to reproduce that dazzling feeling women wish to create when they are seen in their best moments”.

Giovanni Boldini (Ferrara, 1842 – Paris, 1931) indeed had a talent for transferring on canvas the charm and appeal of the chic and fashionable social class that, in his time, was the focus of gossip and culture columns alike. He wonderfully immortalized socialites and artists, from Lina Cavalieri to Marquise Casati, from Gladys Deacon to Eleonora Duse: elegant, in plastic and Mannerist poses, magnificent in their precious outfits. Boldini was appreciated for his iconic style, built on quick and dynamic brushstrokes, and leveraged the great aesthetic and visual synergy he had with the leading couturiers chosen by the l’élite of his time, from Jacques Doucet to the Callot sisters, from Charles Frederick Worth to Paul Poiret.

The tight bond he created between contemporaneity and style, form and representation, is now the focus of the “Boldini and fashion” exhibition, scheduled until 2 June 2019 at  Palazzo Diamanti in Ferrara. Visitors will have the opportunity to see paintings, drawings and engravings by Boldini and other artists of his time – Degas, Manet, Sargent, Whistler, Seurat, Blanche and Helleu – as well as dresses and accessories that well represent the relationship between art, clothing and literature during the Belle Époque. The exhibition is divided into thematic sections, “presented” by authors who wrote about fashion’s wonders over the decades, from Gabriele D’Annunzio to Charles Baudelaire, from Oscar Wilde to Marcel Proust.

Observing Boldini’s work, you may feel like the protagonists of a past time, enveloped in the soft but crisp sound of taffeta, worldliness and the sparkle of sequins. His paintings predated the codes of cinema and the height of fashion photography, celebrating the charm and elegance of the turn-of-the-century hedonism of an age that is now almost legendary, eternally crystallized on this great artist’s canvasses.

By Barbara Palladino


“Boldini and fashion”
Open until 2 June 2019
Palazzo dei Diamanti
Corso Ercole I d’Este 21, 44121 Ferrara
Tel. +39 0532 244949

Photos via:

April 1, 2019