Giovanni Boldini: Count Robert de Montesquiou, 1897 (Musée d’Orsay)
From the Musée d’Orsay’s website:
In 1897, Boldini was engaged, through a mutual friend, Madame Veil-Picard, to paint the portrait of Count Robert de Montesquiou. The painter could not fail to be attracted to the personality of this man of letters, the archetypal, contemporary aesthete and new incarnation of the Baudelarian dandy.
The work reflects both the complexity of the painter’s relationship with the model, and the theories of the “modern portrait” set out by Montesquiou in an article, coincidentally, on Boldini (“Painters of Women - Boldini”, Les Modes, January 1901). In it he states that the art of portrait painting lies not in photographic verisimilitude, but in the ability to blend the personality of the painter with that of the model. This would make Boldini a modern portraitist par excellence, as in his works he reveals the model’s innermost character while at the same time expressing his own opinion.
In this painting, the artist is not content with highlighting Montesquiou’s aristocratic elegance, nonchalance and refinement. He holds a cane like a sceptre, transforming it into a symbol of royalty. Boldini appears to be illustrating the first verse from one of Montesquiou’s poems in his volume Chauve Souris: “I am the sovereign of transitory things”. By putting together a pose taken from the great tradition of 16th and 17th century portraits with an image of modernity, was Boldini wishing to introduce a little irony in regard to Montesquiou’s fanatical aestheticism? This is how many commentators at the time interpreted this portrait.
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