Thursday, October 07, 2010
One of my favorite childhood fantasies was finding a secret attic in my house filled with treasures from bygone eras, especially art works. If I had visited Paris as a child, it would surely have figured into my reveries.
Recently, an apartment in the 9th arrondisement in the middle of Paris, locked and untouched for 70 years, was opened after its owner died. She had moved to the South of France shortly before World War II but continued to pay rent on the apartment, a veritable time capsule, for the rest of her life. It was filled with furniture, books and paintings, including one by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini which recently sold at auction for $2.9 million US.
The untitled painting of a woman in a pink evening gown, painted in 1898, was of the artist's muse, Marthe de Florian, a French actress, and had never been listed, exhibited or published. Her granddaughter was the owner of the apartment. A scribbled love note from the artist to his muse was also discovered. One art expert said it was like creeping into Sleeping Beauty's castle, where time had stood still all these years.
Boldini was born in Ferrara, Italy in 1842 and moved to Paris in 1871. He was greatly influenced by Courbet, Manet and Degas, with whom he established lifelong friendships. He became known mainly as a portrait artist whose subjects included the Duchess of Marlborough, Giuseppe Verdi and Edgar Degas. In his portraits of elegantly-dressed women, he developed a 'whiplash' style in which the model appeared to be thrown onto the canvas. Boldini died in Paris in 1931.
Marthe de Florian had entertained her many admirers in the apartment and kept letters from her lovers in packets wrapped with ribbons of different colors. The calling cards of senior statesmen from the period were found tucked away in drawers.
Happily, the exquisite painting went to a good home. The art specialist who authenticated and appraised the portrait said, "It was a magic moment. One could see that the buyer loved the painting; he paid the price of passion." I find that most fitting for a work that was doubtless created in passion and, like Sleeping Beauty, waited silently all these years for the right person to open the door and break the magic spell.
Note: If anyone owns a painting of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on velvet, it is probably not a Boldini.