Giovanni Boldini (1842–1931) began his artistic education at a very young age, learning primarily from his father Antonio, who was a painter and restorer of some repute in Ferrara, Italy. The young Boldini did not pursue formal academic training, however, and instead, after inheriting a considerable sum of money from his great-uncle, moved to Florence in early 1864. At the time, Florence was home to a community of young artists, with whom Boldini rapidly formed friendships and who thus provided artistic inspiration and also probably helped him find subjects to paint.

Boldini made his first trip to Paris in May 1867, writing upon his return that "My only thought as long as I stay here will be how I can get to Paris and set myself up there." In October 1871, he achieved that goal, and quickly established his Parisian career. Over the next twenty years Boldini explored many different subjects: small genre scenes as well as broad city views, brilliant suburban landscapes, and informal depictions of musicians, performers, and café-goers. Many of these same subjects appeared in the works of a group of avant-garde artists, the Impressionists, who came to prominence in the same period. While Boldini's later work evolved toward an almost exclusive focus on depictions of wealthy and famous society figures, his earlier career reveals the remarkable variety of works he made as he developed his unique style in the process of becoming one of the most celebrated artists of the time.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Boldini had established his reputation as the epitome of the Belle Époque portraitist, with a glittering clientele who sought out his studio to be portrayed by the "Parisian from Italy."

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