on 19 May 2014
Louis Boilly began painting a decade before the fall of the Bastille. He lived until the eve of the revolution of 1848. The work of this prolific artist can be found in galleries and private collections all over the world. In 2010 the Getty paid $5m for Entrance to the Turkish Gardens. Nonetheless, he is not as well-known as contemporaries David and Gericault. This large, lavishly produced monograph is the only account of his life in English. Susan Siegfried is an internationally recognised specialist in this period; she curated the Washington Boilly exhibition of 1995.
Of such a long life there is a lot to say. Throughout he was a canny operator – a real entrepreneur of his undoubted skill and vision. In the late 1820s he abandoned art altogether and took up real estate – wheeling and dealing to considerable effect to provide a legacy for his sons and daughters. The bourgeois family man.
We read how he adapted to 1789. Boilly needed to be as sensitive to the lords of the Terror as to the demands of the market. He survived. After 1795, in the Directory and then through the Napoleonic period to the Restoration, he became the draughtsman of the bourgeois city, the boulevard and urban space. A large body of slightly weird trompe l’oeil work displays a modern interest in the viewer and the spectator. As the book makes clear he was self-consciously a modern cultural creator, but no absinthe or risky dalliances for him.
His most popular canvases display pretty women [one can scarce say anything else], charged with an eroticism deftly untangled by the author. She uses feminist theory to decode glances and gestures in a way that produces an “oh, right I see” rather than “eh?”. In general I learnt a lot about the meaning of his many surviving paintings – sometimes, but only sometimes, with a sense of discomfort. The sexual politics of Boilly and his time have that effect.
At the end what lingers is the seductive attractiveness of his bourgeois heroines in Game of Billiards shown on the cover. More than a game.
on 15 February 2011
Siegfried wrote a very readable book with this monography about French painter Louis-Léopold Boilly.
The career of this artist is especially remarkable and fascinating as it covers the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, when France went through a lot of political changes.
The author approaches the body of works painted by Boilly from a variety of angles, considering for instance the circumstances of the market and private patronage, the contemporary debate about prostitution, and gender relations.
1. Persona and status, 1
2. An artist negotiates the French Revolution, 29
3. Immorality and the Directoire, 57
4. Portraiture and identity, 95
5. Spectacle and leisure, 133
6. Viewing and spectatorship, 159
The volume is widely illustrated, either in colour or in black and white.