Consuelo Vanderbilt (1876–1964), Duchess of Marlborough, and Her Son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill (1898–1956)
Giovanni Boldini (Italian, Ferrara 1842–1931 Paris)
Oil on canvas
87 1/4 x 67 in. (221.6 x 170.2 cm)
Gift of Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, 1946
Not on view
Strikingly beautiful, elegant, and wealthy, with a distinguished family pedigree to match, Consuelo Vanderbilt was the doyenne of international high society. Boldini, one of the most sought-after portraitists of the day, reportedly asked to paint her when she was visiting Paris, finding her "divine." Delighted with the picture, she requested that he enlarge it and include her youngest son. Using a photograph of the portrait, Boldini developed the present, final composition. Hung in the Duchess’s splendid London residence, its dazzling brushwork and elongated curves proved a fitting complement to her glamorous milieu.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): Boldini / 1906
Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, later Mrs. Jacques Balsan, New York (1906–46)
Paris. Hôtel Jean Charpentier. "Boldini, 1842–1931," May 7–31, 1931, no. 26 (as "Portrait de la Duchesse de Malborough [sic] et de son fils, lord Ivor Spencer Churchill," lent by Mme Jacques Vanderbilt Balsan).
Venice. Biennale. "XVIIIa esposizione biennale internazionale d'arte, Venezia: mostra individuale retrospettiva di Giovanni Boldini," March–November 1932, no. 33 (as "Ritratto della Duchessa de Malbourgh[sic] e di suo figlio Lord I von[sic] Spencer Churchill," lent by Signora Jacques Vanderbils[sic] Balsan).
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Loan Exhibition: Paintings by Boldini," March 20–April 8, 1933, no. 2 (as "Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough, and Her Son, Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill," lent by Mme Jacques Balsan, née Vanderbilt).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Turn of the Century: Portraits, Jewels, and Accessories," June 18–October 25, 1948, no catalogue.
Art Gallery of Toronto. "Canadian National Exhibition," August 22–September 6, 1952, no. 4 (as "Consuelo. Duchess of Marlborough [1876– ] and Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill [1898– ]").
San Francisco. California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "Sargent and Boldini," October 24–November 29, 1959, no. 38.
New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Three Hundred Years of New York City Families," January 12–29, 1966, no. 41 (as "Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough [Consuelo Vanderbilt] and Lord Ivor Churchill").
Newport, R.I. Marble House/Preservation Society of Newport. "Churchill Centenary," August 1–December 31, 1974.
Washington. National Portrait Gallery. "Return to Albion: Americans in England, 1760–1940," April 20–September 16, 1979, no. 119 (as "Consuelo Vanderbilt The Duchess of Marlborough 1877–1964").
Providence. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. "Designed for Another Age: Decorative Arts from Newport Mansions," March 20–May 4, 1980, exh. brochure.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "La Belle Époque," December 6, 1982–September 4, 1983, unnum. checklist (as "Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough, and Her Son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill").
New York. Stair Sainty Gallery. "Three Italian Friends of the Impressionists: Boldini, De Nittis, Zandomeneghi," March 14–April 20, 1984, no. 5 (as "Consuelo, duchessa di Malborough [sic] e suo figlio, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill [Consuelo, Duchess of Malborough [sic], with her son Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill)").
New York. Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University. "Giovanni Boldini and Society Portraiture: 1880–1920," November 13–December 22, 1984, no. 20.
London. National Portrait Gallery. "Painting the Century: 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900–2000," October 26, 2000–February 4, 2001, unnumbered cat.
Padua. Palazzo Zabarella. "Boldini," January 15–June 12, 2005, no. 104.
Rome. Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna. "Boldini," June 23–September 25, 2005, no. 104.
C[onsuelo]. Marlborough. Letter to Boldini. May 20, [1906?] [copy in departmental archive file], comments on the reaction to this painting once it was hung in Sunderland House, stating that everyone admires it although some dislike her pose.
Giovanni Boldini. Letter to an unknown recipient. March 29, 1906 [published in Italian transl. in Ref. Dini and Dini 2002, vol. 2, p. 181, possibly the same as letter to Dubufe mentioned in Guidi 2015], notes that he has just finished this painting.
Jean Louis Vaudoyer. "Giovanni Boldini." Dedalo 4 (1930–31), p. 1197, ill., calls it "La Duchessa di Marlborough e suo figlio".
[Emilia] Cardona [Boldini]. Vie de Jean Boldini. Paris, 1931, pp. 83, 88, pl. XVI, calls it "Mère et enfant"; notes that the flared furniture depicted in the portrait was in Boldini's studio.
Jacques-Émile Blanche. "Portraits féminins de Boldini." L'Illustration 89 (December 5, 1931), unpaginated, states that no one has ever better represented the duchess, noting the portrait's resemblance to its adult sitter as "délicieuse" (delicious).
Art News 31 (April 1, 1933), ill. on front cover.
Alonzo Lansford. "Metropolitan Turns the Other Chic." Art Digest 22 (August 1, 1948), p. 12, ill., criticizes the exaggerated proportions in this portrait.
Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan. The Glitter and the Gold. New York, 1952, p. 138, recalls that she sat for this portrait at Boldini's request and that because it "was a good likeness we decided to acquire it and to have the canvas enlarged to include my younger son"; notes that Boldini finished it in London and had difficulty with the position of her left arm.
[Emilia] Cardona [Boldini]. Boldini: Parisien d'Italie. Paris, 1952, p. 127, notes that Boldini painted the portraits of both Duchesses of Marlborough.
Three Hundred Years of New York City Families. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. New York, 1966, unpaginated, no. 41, erroneously dates it 1905.
Carlo L. Ragghianti Ettore Camesasca inL'opera completa di Boldini. Milan, 1970, p. 121, no. 416a, ill., states incorrectly that this painting was once in the collection of Baron Maurice de Rothschild.
Richard Ormond. John Singer Sargent: Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors. New York, 1970, pp. 64, 253, fig. 51, compares Sargent's portrait of the same sitters in "The Marlborough Family" (1905; Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire) to the "frenetic and nervous stylization" of this picture.
Carlo Placci e l'arte francese del primo novecento: Incontri di un dilettante fiorentino. Ed. Claudio Pizzorusso. Exh. cat., Biblioteca Marucelliana. Florence, 1977, p. 36, reprints entry from Carlo Placci's diary, in which he mentions visiting Boldini's studio in early December 1905 and seeing The Met's picture.
Gary A. Reynolds. Giovanni Boldini and Society Portraiture: 1880–1920. Exh. cat., Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University. New York, 1984, pp. 42–43, 61, no. 20, ill., calls it one of Boldini's most important commissions of the early 1900s; notes that in order to enlarge the original portrait to include the sitter's son, Boldini pasted a photograph of the canvas onto a larger sheet and used this as the basis of an oil sketch for the expanded composition (collection Vito Doria, Bologna).
Enrico Piceni inThree Italian Friends of the Impressionists: Boldini, De Nittis, Zandomeneghi. Exh. cat., Stair Sainty Gallery. New York, 1984, pp. 19, 30–31, no. 5, ill. (color), notes that the "sinuous arabesque" of this composition reflects the influence of art nouveau.
Kenneth McConkey in "'Well-bred Contortions' 1880–1918." The British Portrait, 1660–1960. Woodbridge, 1991, pp. 366, 378, colorpl. 67.
1200 Lettres de peintres 1880-1920; lettres d'écrivains et de musiciens, livres illustrés et suites de gravures. Hôtel Drouot, Paris. November 13, 1991, no. 13 [set of twenty signed letters from Boldini to H. Durand-Tahier and M. Raguet, 1902–1922], mentions that Boldini refers to the picture as "le moins pire que j'ai fait" (the least bad that I have done); states that he is crestfallen that the Vanderbilts do not want him to exhibit it in Paris.
Andrew Wilton. The Swagger Portrait: Grand Manner Portraiture in Britain from Van Dyck to Augustus John, 1630–1930. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery. London, 1992, p. 196, fig. 38, suggests that Boldini may have copied the bird's eye perspective of this picture from Sargent's "Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children" (1896; private collection).
15 Paintings by Giovanni Boldini Collected by the Late Baron Maurice de Rothschild. Christie's, New York. November 1, 1995, pp. 15, 18–20, fig. 5, states erroneously that it was once owned by Maurice de Rothschild.
Bianca Doria. Giovanni Boldini: catalogo generale dagli archivi Boldini. Milan, 2000, vol. 1, colorpl. 520; vol. 2, unpaginated, no. 520, ill., calls it "La Duchessa Consuelo di Marlborough col figlio Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill".
Robin Gibson with an introduction by Norbert Lynton. Painting the Century: 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900–2000. Exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery. London, 2000, pp. 13–14, 62–63, ill. (color), notes that the spaciousness of this composition is unusual in Boldini's work; suggests that it may have been commissioned "as a gesture of independence" following the sitter's recent separation from the Duke of Marlborough.
Piero Dini and Francesca Dini. Giovanni Boldini, 1842–1931: Catalogo ragionato. Vol. 3, Catalogo ragionato della pittura a olio con un'ampia selezione di pastelli e acquerelli. Turin, 2002, part 2, pp. 477–78, no. 919, ill.
Piero Dini and Francesca Dini. Giovanni Boldini, 1842–1931: Catalogo Ragionato. Vol. 1, La Vita e l'iter-artistico. Turin, 2002, pp. 190, 208, colorpl. CI.
Piero Dini and Francesca Dini. Giovanni Boldini, 1842–1931: Catalogo ragionato. Vol. 2, L'Epistolario. Turin, 2002, p. 181.
Anna Villari inBoldini. Ed. Francesca Dini et al. Exh. cat., Palazzo Zabarella, Padua. Venice, 2005, p. 254, no. 104, ill. pp. 200, 255 (color, detail and overall).
Fernando Mazzocca inBoldini: lo spettacolo della modernità. Ed. Francesca Dini and Fernando Mazzocca. Exh. cat., Musei San Domenico, Forlì. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2015, p. 52, fig. 14 (color).
Barbara Guidi. Boldini a Parigi: ritratto di un pittore attraverso le lettere. Ferrara, 2015, pp. 21, 206 n. 3, pp. 480–81, fig. 40 (color), notes that Boldini portrayed multiple members of the Vanderbilt family, including Consuelo, Muriel, and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt; publishes Marlborough [1906?] in Italian translation; states that the picture must have caused the painter much work, given the number of pencil sketches for it at the Museo Boldini in Ferrara; stresses the Duchess's unstable position and serpentine silhouette, giving the picture a sense of centrifugal motion; dates the initial work on the painting to autumn–winter 1905, based on Placci's diary entry(reprinted in Pizzorusso 1977, p. 36); states that Boldini had wanted to exhibit the picture at the Salon of 1906, based on a letter to Dubufe, March 29, 1906 (possibly the same as Boldini 1906).
Marcello Toffanello inBoldini: lo spettacolo della modernità. Ed. Francesca Dini and Fernando Mazzocca. Exh. cat., Musei San Domenico, Forlì. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2015, p. 73, notes that a dozen sketches for The Met's picture remain, both of the duchess alone and with her son.
This painting was originally conceived as a half-length portrait of Consuelo Vanderbilt; however, the sitter was so pleased with the composition that she asked Boldini to enlarge it and include her son. In order to prepare for the final version, Boldini had the original photographed, pasted it onto a larger sheet and expanded the composition; this study is in the collection of Vito Doria, Bologna (Dini and Dini 2002, no. 918). An oil study of Consuelo Vanderbilt alone is presently unlocated (Dini and Dini 2002, no. 920). Another oil study for the entire composition was sold at Sotheby's, London, June 22, 1988, no. 419 (formerly Warren collection; not in Dini and Dini 2002).
Two sketches exist for this painting (see Vito Doria, Boldini: Inedito, Bologna, 1982, p. 107, and photograph in MMA archive file).