The son of a minor painter and restorer in Ferrara, Giovanni Boldini arrived in 1862 in Florence, where he enrolled in the Accademia. He soon came into contact with the Macchiaioli, a group of artists opposed to the strict teachings of the academic system, and from them was inspired to paint out of doors. Prominent among his early works are a series of landscape frescoes for the Villa ‘La Falconiera’, near Pistoia, painted by Boldini in 1870. His preference was for portraits, however, and from the earliest years of his career he displayed a remarkable talent as a portrait painter. During a trip to London in 1870 he was able to obtain several portrait commissions, and by 1871 he had settled in Paris, taking a studio on the Place Pigalle and making his public debut in 1874 at the Salon de Mars. He began to paint society portraits and soon developed a reputation for his dazzling, elegant depictions of the fashionable society women of Paris, executed with a virtuoso technique of bold, fluid brushstrokes. Within a few years he had risen to a position of prominence in Parisian art circles, and enjoyed an exclusive contract with the eminent art dealer Adolphe Goupil, for whom he produced small, brightly coloured 18th century costume pieces that were popular with the dealer’s Parisian clientele. Boldini befriended other society portrait painters, such as Paul-César Helleu, John Singer Sargent and James A. McNeill Whistler, and was also friendly with two of the greatest draughtsmen of the day, Adolph von Menzel and Edgar Degas; the latter is said to have once told the artist, “Vous êtes un monstre de talent!”. By the turn of the century Boldini had become the most sought-after portrait painter in Belle Epoque Paris, achieving such success that his reputation rivalled that of his friend Sargent in London.
The present sheet is part of a group of drawings given by Boldini to Suzy Lecormie, a young woman from Brittany who was aged just twenty when she met the artist in 1924. Almost nothing is known about Suzy, with whom the artist seems to have been captivated; she had striking green eyes, and Boldini described her as ‘très belle, grande, élégante’. Suzy remains a somewhat mysterious figure in accounts of Boldini’s late years, however. She is mentioned only occasionally in the artist’s surviving letters and has remained, for the most part, a shadowy figure to Boldini’s biographers. The two spent some time traveling after first meeting, and had planned a trip to Ferrara, but Suzy fell ill and the plans were abandoned. In November 1925 Boldini wrote to Suzy and invited her to meet him in Cannes, where the warm weather and sea air would, he suggested, help to heal her tuberculosis. They seem to have spent the early months of 1926 together in Cannes, and the handful of paintings of Suzy by Boldini that are known - notably a painting of her seated which is today in a private collection in Pavia - probably date from around this time.