I wondered whether we know how Whistler reacted to Boldini's portrait. I read that Whistler was not pleased with Chase's wonderful portrait, now in the Met.
Whistler was not pleased with Boldini's 1897 portrait, either. Described variously as scintillating, witty, wiry, delicate, restless, a great artist, a dandy, a man running on reserves, Whistler was sharp-tongued and mercurial. Whistler disliked posing and said, "he hoped he did not look like that." In the words of Pennell (Pennell, 1908, II, p. 193), the portrait "is however, a wonderful presentment of him in his very worst mood, and ... he was in his worst mood all the while he posed. It is the Whistler whom the world knew and feared." Edward Kennedy, Whistler's art dealer and friend, was in the studio for the last sitting and and related to Albert Gallatin (Gallatin, 1918, 18) that Whistler disliked the painting. Kennedy further noted that "he (Whistler) always wanted to be depicted as over six feet high and to look like a Major-General." (The above info is pulled from Sweet, Frederick, James McNeill Whistler, The Art Institute of Chicago Catalogue, 1968, 125-126).
Whistler, while handsome and somewhat of a dandy, was quite short (known as a pocket Apollo). For that matter as you noted he was equally displeased with William Merritt Chase's earlier portrait referring to it "as a great lampoon." (Olsen, Roberta, Ottocento: Romanticism and Revolution in 19th Century Painting, 1992, 215). Nonetheless, John Singer Sargent who recommended the portrait to Isabella Stewart Gardner, singled it out as “...a first rate Boldini and a wonderful picture of Whistler." But, she did not go so far as to buy it. (Olsen, 215)
We were out of the country and just saw one of Boldini's paintings at the Vanderbilt mansion. Are there more in the museum's collection?
Yes, we do. A portrait of Whistler, it is on this same floor close to the elevators.
Oh. I think I know that one. I love that painting.
Personally, I love Boldini's work and how his brushstrokes fan out at the edges.
There is always something about his portraits that make me want to gasp. This is my favorite.
It was also recently reinstalled (it was hanging on a staff floor for a time).
My lucky night! He looks so mischievous.
He does! The shape of the eyebrows really add to that sense. I love the brushwork on the back of the chair, and that splash of light on the seat of the chair.
Tell me more.
This was painted by Giovanni Boldini and interestingly, the subject, James Whistler, was displeased with the depiction of him.
Why was he displeased?
Whistler disliked posing. He was very restless and said, "he hoped he did not look like that." I personally love how expressive the hands are, and wouldn't be too upset myself if this were my portrait. What do you think?
Love it. Are there any other paintings of Boldini or any paintings of Whistler I can look for?
There is! If you continue on the 3rd floor you'll find "Portrait of a Lady" in the Beaux-Arts Court, another work by Boldini.
We have many works on paper by Whistler in our collection, however unfortunately they are not on view at the moment.
Thank you so much!
Portrait of a Lady is beautiful. Was it considered controversial at all at that time?
I don't believe so, unlike the other Boldini, where the artist was painting his friend and famed artist Whistler, the relationship between the sitter and artist are less clear in this instance. The sitter here in Portrait of a Lady is Florence Meyer Blumenthal who was a philanthropist and arts patron, who organized her own arts foundation in Paris and donated millions of dollars to established institutions and public charities in America and France. If she did dislike the portrait she certainly didn't make that be known. Whistler and Boldini were friends, and likely had enough of a relationship to be honest and critical with each other. Florence Meyer Blumenthal may have simply commissioned this painting. It is a pretty risque image with the low decollete and come hither in comparison to typical society portraits of the turn of the century. However, Sargent had already set the bar with Madame X (at the Metropolitan) in 1884.
How long would someone usually have to sit for a portrait like this?
Each artist has their own working methods. Generally speaking it could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. This work was painted by Giovanni Boldini, who was known for being an enjoyable conversationalist, and subjects enjoyed posing for him! interestingly, the subject, James Whistler, disliked posing altogether. He was very restless and said, "he hoped he did not look like that." I personally love how expressive the hands are, and wouldn't be too upset myself if this were my portrait.