Giovanni Boldini, (1842–1931)
Luisa Casati, (1881-1957), c. 1908
Oil on canvas
Over the centuries, many powerful monarchs, eccentric aristocrats and fabulously wealthy burghers have commissioned portraits of themselves, arrayed in all their finery, standing, life-size and full-length. This prestigious format was primarily reserved for monarchs and members of the aristocracy. It was not until some time later that it was used for high society in general. More on this painting
Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino (23 January 1881 – 1 June 1957), also known as Luisa Casati, was an Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts in early 20th-century Europe.
Luisa was born in Milan, younger of two daughters of Alberto Amman. Her father was made a count by King Umberto I. Her mother died when Luisa was thirteen, and her father died two years later, making his daughters, reportedly, the wealthiest women in Italy.
In 1900, she married Camillo, Marchese Casati Stampa di Soncino (Muggiò, 12 August 1877 – Roma, 18 September 1946). The couple's only child, Cristina Casati Stampa di Soncino. The Casatis maintained separate residences for the duration of their marriage. They were legally separated in 1914. They remained married until Marchese Casati's death in 1946.
A celebrity, the Marchesa was famed for eccentricities that dominated and delighted European society for nearly three decades. The beautiful and extravagant hostess was something of a legend among her contemporaries. She astonished society by parading with a pair of leashed cheetahs and wearing live snakes as jewellery.
Her numerous portraits were painted and sculpted by artists as various as Giovanni Boldini, Paolo Troubetzkoy, Adolph de Meyer Romaine Brooks, Kees van Dongen, and Man Ray; many of them she paid for, as a wish to "commission her own immortality". She was muse to Italian Futurists such as F. T. Marinetti, Fortunato Depero, and Umberto Boccioni. Augustus John's portrait of her is one of the most popular paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario; Jack Kerouac wrote poems about it and Robert Fulford was impressed by it as a schoolboy.
By 1930, Casati had amassed a personal debt of $25 million. As she was unable to pay her creditors, her personal possessions were auctioned off. Designer Coco Chanel was reportedly one of the bidders.
Casati fled to London, where she lived in comparative poverty in a one-room flat. On 1 June 1957, Marchesa Casati died of a stroke at aged 76. More on Marquise de Casati
Giovanni Boldini (31 December 1842 in Ferrara, Italy – 11 July 1931 in Paris, France) was an Italian genre and portrait painter. According to a 1933 article in Time magazine, he was known as the "Master of Swish" because of his flowing style of painting. Boldini was born in Ferrara, the son of a painter of religious subjects, and in 1862 went to Florence for six years to study and pursue painting. He only infrequently attended classes at the Academy of Fine Arts, but in Florence, met other realist painters known as the Macchiaioli, who were Italian precursors to Impressionism.
Moving to London, Boldini attained success as a portraitist. He completed portraits of premier members of society. From 1872 he lived in Paris, where he became a friend of Edgar Degas. He also became the most fashionable portrait painter in Paris in the late 19th century. He was nominated commissioner of the Italian section of the Paris Exposition in 1889, and received the Légion d'honneur for this appointment.
A Boldini portrait of his former muse Marthe de Florian, a French actress, was discovered in a Paris flat in late 2010, hidden away from view on the premises that were unvisited for 70 years. The portrait has never been listed, exhibited or published and the flat belonged to de Florian's granddaughter who went to live in the South of France at the outbreak of the Second World War and never returned. A love-note and a biographical reference to the work painted in 1888, when the actress was 24, cemented its authenticity. The full length portrait of the lady in the same clothing and accessories, but less provocative, hangs in the New Orleans Museum of Art. More on Giovanni Boldini
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