Biennale Internazionale di Antiquariato di Roma
Portrait of Betty Wertheimer, 1902
United States, private collection.
The Graphic, 3 February 1906, ill. (as “Portrait of Mrs. E. A. Salaman”); C. L. Ragghianti - E. Camesasca, L’opera completa di Boldini, Milan 1970, p. 116, no. 343 (as “Portrait of Mrs. E. A. Salaman”); P. Dini (ed. by ), Giovanni Boldini, exhibition catalogue, Pistoia 1984, p. 141 (as “Portrait of Mrs. E. A. Salaman”); B. Doria, Giovanni Boldini. Catalogo generale degli archivi Boldini, Milan 2000, no. 441; P. Dini - F. Dini, Giovanni Boldini, 1942-1931: catalogo ragionato, Turin 2002, vol. I, p. 288, vol. IV, pp. 425, 427, no. 797 (as “Portrait of Ena Wertheimer”); T. Panconi, Giovanni Boldini. L’opera completa, Florence 2002, p. 429 (as “Portrait of Mrs. E. A. Salaman”).
London, International Society, Sixth Exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, January - March 1906;
Forlì, Musei San Domenico, Boldini. Lo spettacolo della modernità, 1 February 2015 - 14 June 2015.
Paris was the centre of the world at the time, the privileged theatre for all international cultural experiences and Boldini had been living there permanently since 1871 even though he did travel extensively. Aside from a brief stay in London, living at 39 Hyde Park Gate in July, the artist spent almost the entire year of 1902, when he painted the two portraits presented here, in the ville lumière. It is likely that the commission for the Wertheimer Salaman portrait dates from that short stay in London, since we know that on 29 July, Mrs. Hansen had written to the painter in London from Denmark where she was still living, asking for a photograph of her portrait (P. Dini - F. Dini, 2002, vol. I, p. 288).
Elizabeth Wertheimer (16 August 1877 - 15 July 1953) was the daughter of Asher Wertheimer - a wealthy Jewish art merchant living in London - and Flora Joseph. She married Euston Abraham Salaman (1871-1816) on 18 October 1899; around a year after his death, in 1917 she married Arthur Ricketts (1874-1968). Therefore, Betty was already married to Salaman when the portrait was done in 1902, and this explains why The Graphic published it as “Mrs. E. A. Salaman” in the article about the most important paintings shown at the International Society in 1906. This, however, has not prevented some recent confusion (P. Dini - F. Dini, 2002, p. 427) with her older sister, Helena (Ena, 1874-1935), who is at her right in the portrait by John Singer Sargent conserved in the Tate Gallery, London (fig. 1), and painted one year prior to Boldini’s portrait. The canvas is one of a group of twelve portraits of the Wertheimer family (nearly all in the Tate) commissioned to decorate the dining room in the family’s Connaught Place home. Apart from that series, Sargent painted another portrait of Betty a few years later (in 1908) which is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.. There is yet another portrait, a watercolour done when she was already Mrs. Arthur Ricketts, conserved in the Hirshhorn Museum, also in Washington.
A comparison between the two women in the Sargent portrait reveals their strikingly different characters: Ena is clearly more exuberant and extroverted, than the more restrained and self-assured Betty. This is also confirmed by Mr. Julian Mathias, Ena’s grandson, who described his great-aunt Betty as a bold and independent minded, yet very reserved woman.
Even after he left France to settle in London, Sargent was constantly in touch with artists working in Paris. Boldini frequently visited him in England and shared his circle of friends that included Asher Wertheimer (1844-1918), Betty’s father; therefore, we can assume that it was the American artist who procured this commission for his Italian friend. By that time, Sargent was the official painter of British society, and he interpreted his clients’ needs differently from the Ferrarese artist. The image of Betty Wertheimer we see in the Sargent portrait is respectable and reassuring, she personifies a social group, which having become rich through capitalism, had achieved full-fledged, upper middleclass status. The portrait by Boldini, on the other hand reveals the woman’s sensual charge and makes her an icon of style, through the refined clothing and accessories, which the painter selected very carefully leaving nothing to chance.
From another standpoint, the Wertheimer portrait is the closest Boldini ever came to Sargent’s models. His decision to work with a very limited palette of cool colours - pink, grey and white - creates a stylistic similarity with paintings such as the Portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, done by the American artist in 1893 and currently in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.
In the 1902 portrait, Wertheimer’s younger daughter, who was twenty-five at the time, is viewed frontally, against a pale wall which, along with the cold colour of her dress emphasizes her mass of upswept dark hair. Her pose and her eyes looking directly at the viewer seem to beckon, enhancing the effect of the bare left shoulder and low neckline. Her left hand holds a fan (an accessory we also see in the Sargent portrait) and her dress, making the drapery more sensual as it defines the curves of her body. (A.P.)