Louis Léopold BOILLY (La Bassée, 1761 - Paris, 1845)

Drawing Study

20.9 x 24.5 cm. (8 ¼ x 9 5/8 in.)

Pen, black ink, grey wash, and white highlights
Monogram and date lower left: "L.B. 1802"

Provenance :
• France, Private Collection

Bibliography :
• Étienne Bréton and Pascal Zuber, Louis-Léopold Boilly, 1761-1845, le peintre de la société parisienne de Louis XVI à Louis-Philippe, Arthena Editions, Paris, 2019.

Originally from the town of La Bassée, Louis-Léopold Boilly was trained in the neighboring city of Arras before he settled in Paris in 1785. Noticed for his drawing talents, he was admired for his first submissions to the Salon in 1791, and won universal praise for Artists Gathered in Isabey’s Studio exhibited in 1798.

Boilly’s work - often copied in his lifetime, especially by the artist Henri Nicolas van Gorp (1758-1819) with whom he is frequently confused - is identifiable by the particular gentleness, sweetness or softness of his sitters. An extremely prolific painter, he was highly sought by all classes of society, epecially the bourgeoisie who demanded their own portraits by one whom they dubbed the “master of small portraits.”

Classified as a history and genre painter, Boilly nonetheless did not particularly care for working on a large scale. A veritable chroniquer of Parisian life, he was appreciated for the truthfulness that emanated from his works. Boilly preferred to concentrate on feelings communicated through delicate gestures and visual anecdotes whose small size gives each scene an intimate atmosphere. In this case, a young artist is sketching her sitter from life in a studio. Boilly endowed his sitters with rare gracefulness and delicacy, in which each element received individual consideration. A few fine white highlights in this work bring touches of light to the fine faces of the figures, as well as volume to the drapery folds while underlining the cleverness of the artist’s hand.

The ingenious display here of the act of creating a portrait within a portrait was highly appreciated. Drawing Study was engraved by Jean-Frédéric Cazenave in both black and white and in color (ill. 1). In terms of the artist’s early Parisian career, the engraving presents a double interest for the considerable windfall it brought him and for the increasing fame of his work.

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