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GROSSO, BOLDINI AND SARGENT

Three portraitists of Belle Èpoque among Florence, Paris and London.

Belle Èpoque period, which began around 1880 and ended with the outbreak of the First World War, has three great portrait painters as its protagonists on the artistic scene: Giacomo Grosso, born in Cambiano in 1860, Giovanni Boldini, born in Ferrara in 1842, and John Singer Sargent, born in 1856 in Florence into a family of American origins. All three grown up in large families, they visit Florence, or study or work there, the place where the artistic Movement of Macchiaioli was born. Later they stay in Paris, an essential stop for artists of international stature and home of Impressionism. Sargent is described as “an American born in Italy, trained in France, who seems a German, speaks like an English and paints like a Spanish”. (Velasquez is among his models); he was also called “the Van Dick of our time” by the sculptor Rodin. Boldini, who was originally a member of the Movement of Macchiaioli, spends a period in London, but works mainly for Goupil, in France, where he is called the little “peintre italien de Paris”. The author of “La Femme” exhibited in Mazzetti Palace, when the Belle Époque is definitely ended, is considered as “the beautiful monument survived at him”, such as for Boldini at the end of his career when his sight started to wave.

The style: from the common influences to the most original features.

John Singer Sargent puts exotic scenes in his personal artistic eclectism and an already modern aesthetic, anticipating the symbolist idea. His paintings from the 80’s stand out for the atmospheric realism obtained thanks to an unlimited shades with prevalence of grey. He sets light, model arrangement and main volumes by carbonstone, on which he immediately begins to apply brushstrokes of thick painting, wet on wet, using pure color, without “medium”. The rivelation of shapes starts from the darkness such as light progressively increased. Giovanni Boldini is distinguished by elegance, dynamism, psichologycal characterization and because he distances himself from more classical portraiture, even if he is partly influenced by Degas. His works turn towards much more bold and dynamic solutions of lines and colors, with real painting “saber strokes”; the artist from Ferrara prefers, in fact, long, vertical or sinuous brushstrokes that create ethereal figures, captured in the moment and in the making. Power of his portraits is surely given by the expressiveness of face, on which he concentrates using a precise stroke, and the careful selection of more nuanced and flowing details. His palette is lighter in the 1870’s, but in the “post Goupil” period he explores darker tones (red, brown and black) influenced by Frans Hals and Diego Velázquez (such as in the case of Sargent).

Giacomo Grosso obtained important awards that reinforced his reputation for being a fashionable artist and sometimes a “pompier” painter, anyway a refined testifier of his time. He soon became the portraitist of the aristocracy, occasionally devoting himself to biblical and literary subjects. During a stay in Paris, he updated on Impressionist painting, on the exoticism of L. Alma-Tadema (which also influcenced Surgent) and improved the innovative use of pastel inspired by the work of De Nittis. The public recognized to him a firm virtuosity and a fresh seductive vein, while critics emphasized a “demodè” style and a certain pretext about literary references chosen for his subjects; surely he had “facility, softness, readiness and dexterity of wit, eye and hand.”

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