• Sale Paris, Drouot, November 4th, 955, lot 9, repr.
• France, Private Collection
• 1959, De Watteau à Picasso. Le Charme dans le dessin français, Paris, Galerie Marcel Guiot, cat. 37.
From Salon criticism, and then the first catalogue on him by Henry Harrisse in 1898, up until the most recent publications, art historians have had to face the difficulty of characterizing Louis-Leopold Boilly’s painting. Portraitist, genre painter, or history painter, Boilly has not finished provoking intense emotions, an indication of the quality of an oeuvre which the public appreciated very early and which defies rigid categorization.
In line with the Neo-Classical artists of his generation, Boilly proved to be an incomparable draughtsman. The elaboration of each of his paintings was accompanied by a succession of drawings and then oil sketches realized with a goldsmith’s detail. The painter studied each figure in larger scale than it would appear in the final work. Despite the Davidian complexity of his staging, Boilly disdained large formats and favored dimensions which seemed to intentionally seek an effect of reduction.
Cantor of Parisian life, Boilly was interested in all social classes and positioned himself as a fine observor of the contemporary world which he interpreted in painting the way Balzac did in literature. Heir to the Dutch Masters of the Golden Age, Greuze and even Chardin, Boilly lifted daily anecdote to the rank of subject with a verve which had more in common with theatrical purview than with social engagement. A plethora of family scenes appear in the work of this artist, father of a large family who unceasingly furnished him with motifs.
Our two drawings are preparatory studies for the painting, Sudden Shower , executed in about 1805 and largely diffused by engraving under the title Passez. Payez. Scène de moeurs parisiennes (Pass. Pay. Scene of Parisian Customs.) The sudden shower has rendered one of the capital’s unpaved streeets impassable. Taking advantage of the situation, a man has thrown a mobile wheeled plank onto the mud and is making money off of the more comfortable crossing. The artist immortalizes a bourgeois family advancing on this makeshift bridge in front of a charming ballet of umbrellas.
Boilly had a penchant for pendant compositions, an inclination which can be found even in his preparatory drawings. Here he studies two pairs of the painting’s protagonists. As was his habit, each of the figures measures about double its height in the painting. The drawings gain the status of autonomous works by virtue of their quality. Other preparatory drawings for The Sudden Shower are known, including an ink and watercolor compositional view with a few variations (private collection, England), and a black chalk study of the father with his two children (Paris, Marmottan Museum).
Our first folio depicts a mother and her daughter. Entirely elegant, the woman wears a plumed hat and an ample dress with puffed sleeves. With one hand, she holds up her skirt, and with the other, holds a puppy half wrapped in a Cachemere shawl. In front of her, her daughter with curls tightly held back by a bonnet lifts one hand – which will be held by her father in the painting. White chalk dominates, traces the faces with characteristic features, and emphasizes the watering of satin fabrics. Shadows are delicately hatched in black chalk.
The second sheet details a father and his son, both clothed in suits and carrying top hats. They are modeled in black chalk. White chalk highlights the brightness of the scarves and the suppleness of the child’s flesh. The craftsmanship is infallible, the line decided, previously defined light and shadows prefigure the iridescent atmosphere which will permeate the painting. This lively scene which seems to be sketched on the spot is in fact meditated, composed so to leave nothing to chance except its reception by the public, who were assuredly conquered by this sensitive gracefulness and dialogue couched entirely in terms of direction of gestures and gaze.
A few other drawings of this type have been passed down to posterity, among them a Study of a Young Woman Wearing a Poke-Bonnet realized at the same period as our folios (black chalk and white chalk highlights on blue paper, , 42.5 x 22.5 cm. Arras, Museum of Fine Arts.) The elegant silhouette, with the same taste as our young mother, is preparatory to one of the artist’s first street scenes, The Arrival of the Stagecoach in the Court of the Shipping Office (1804, oil on wood, 62 x 85 cm. Paris, Louvre Museum.)
We would like to thank Mr. Etienne Breton and Mr. Pascal Zuber for having confirmed the authenticity of our works which will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist.
Anne SCOTTEZ-DE WAMBRECHIES, Florence RAYMOND (dir.), Boilly (1761- 1845), exh. cat. Lille, Palace of Fine Arts, 2011.
Susan L. SIEGFRIED, The art of Louis-Léopold Boilly. Modern life in Napoleonic France, New Haven, London, Yale University Press, 1995.
Yves BRAYER, Louis Boilly, exh. cat. Paris, Marmottan Museum, 1984.
Henry HARRISSE, L.-L. Boilly, peintre, dessinateur et lithographe, sa vie et son œuvre, Paris, Société de propagation des livres d’art, 1898.