Unknown Giovanni Boldini painting resurfaces in a dusty attic

Unknown Giovanni Boldini painting resurfaces in a dusty attic

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In a dusty attic once belonging to a beautiful actress, a beaming portrait by Giovanni Boldini sits hidden for almost 100 years until recently found and revealed by a Parisian auctioneer.

Paris -- When an auctioneer entered a dust-covered old Parisian flat to take inventory of the deceased owner's possessions, he had the impression of creeping into Sleeping Beauty's castle.

In the gloom of the flat that had been shut for decades, he came across a portrait unknown to art experts of a beautiful woman by one of 19-century Paris' most prized portrait artists, Italian Giovanni Boldini.

"There was a smell of old dust," said auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvry.

The painting recently fetched EUR 2.1 million (USD 2.9 million) in frenzied bidding, making a record for one of the artist's works.

The flat's last occupant, who was the granddaughter of Boldini's muse, had locked the flat before World War II to go live in the south of France and never returned.

The woman recently died at the age of 91, having paid upkeep fees for the large flat in central Paris for 70 years without using it.

The painting, which had hung in the flat's living room, was the portrait of  an actress of exceptional beauty who went by the name of Marthe de Florian enshrouded in a pale pink mousseline evening dress.

A handout picture released by art expert Marc Ottavi shows detail from a painting by Giovanni Boldini that was found in an old apartment in Paris.

She had hosted her many admirers in the flat where, according one of the people who worked on the inventory, "she kept letters from her lovers in little packages wrapped up with ribbons of different colours."

Calling cards of senior statesmen from the period were found tucked away in drawers.

When the auctioneer discoverd the painting, he had a doubt about its authenticity and asked expert Marc Ottavi to examine it.

"No reference books on Boldini mentioned the painting which had never been exhibited in public," said Ottavi.

However, one of Boldini's calling cards was found with a message indicating that the painter was one of de Florian's lovers.

"We had the link and the I was certain that it was a very fine Boldini," Ottavi said.

United Kingdom, London : A visitor stands between two paintings, 'Louis Metman' by French artist Jacques-Emile Blanche (L) and 'Gertrude Elizabeth, Lady Colin Campbell' by Paris-based Italian artist Giovanni Boldini, at the Tate Britain gallery in London

Nevertheless, Ottavi's team kept investigating and eventually found a mention of the portrait, painted in 1898 when de Florian was 24, in a 1951 book by the painter's widow.

When the portrait went to auction, bidding started at EUR 300,000.

"We had ten buyers on the telephone and interested buyers in the room," Ottavi said.

Photo © Wikimedia CommonsEager would-be buyers quickly bid up the painting's price to EUR 1.3 million before it finally went to a determined collector in the auction room for EUR 1.7 million, or EUR 2.1 million including fees.

"It was a magical moment, you could see that the buyer really liked the painting and paid the price of passion," Ottavi said.

Born in the northern Italian city of Ferrara in 1842, Boldini moved to Paris in 1871 and quickly became one of the era's most sought-after portrait artists, painting the Duchess of Marlborough, Giuseppe Verdi and Edgar Degas before he died in 1931.

Marie-Noelle Blessig / AFP / Expatica

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