Giovanni Boldini, Adolph Menzel (1895)
This portrait of Adolph Menzel (1815-1905) was painted by Giovanni (Jean) Boldini (1842-1931) in two short sittings in 1895. Despite the speed of its execution, it was a true labor of love: Boldini was said to have stood for hours on end in front of Menzel’s Flute Concert (1852) and The Iron-Rolling Mill (1875) in Berlin’s National Gallery. When visitors to Boldini’s studio saw a photograph of Menzel tucked into a mirror frame, the artist was known to exclaim: “Ah, what a painter! As for me, I am only a dauber.” Boldini’s portrait was displayed at exhibitions in Berlin (1896) and Paris (1931). Viewers believed it showed a private, spontaneous side of Menzel; some said that Boldini had painted “a prestigious head,” while others thought he had caught the “gnomelike” qualities of an artistic genius who stood less than 4½ feet tall. (Vito Doria, Boldini. Inedito / Inédit / Unpublished Works. Bologne, 1982, pp. 22, 140.) It bears noting that the “von” in Menzel’s name is absent from most contemporary references, since he was ennobled late in life (1898), when he became a Knight of the Order of the Black Eagle.