Boilly at the Wallace Collection
Boilly at the Wallace Collection
of Les Champs Elisées (London, The Wallace Collection)
is drawn from Watteau’s own Jupiter and Antiope (Paris,
Musée du Louvre) of a few years prior.
Boilly regularly looked at the work of earlier artists,
emulating his models with enthusiasm. Not only did
he reproduce the polished technique of artists such
as Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris but he borrowed
themes from their works. The Dead Mouse, for instance,
may be read as an allegory of innocence in peril,
a subject popular in Dutch genre scenes. He also
copied, expressly lifting passages, figures, and attitudes
from contemporary sources. In subject, spirit, and
composition, Les Coeurs reconnaissants (Wiltshire, The
Ramsbury Manor Foundation) of 1790 recalls Greuze’s
Dame de Charité (Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts), a
painting that had famously moved the Parisian public
in 1775 and remained at the forefront of visual culture
thanks to widely circulated engravings.21 Another source
of inspiration was Antoine Watteau whose canon of
female figures with their triangular-shaped heads and
dainty extremities seems to have found an outlet in
Boilly’s early work.
As Boilly’s birthplace, Lille, is not far from Watteau’s
hometown of Valenciennes, it is possible that regional
pride informed this instance of emulation. And
even more notable is Boilly’s play with statues in his
compositions, a conceit that recalls Watteau’s habit
of staging complex relationships between sculpture
and people in his own work.22 It was not unusual
for portraitists to refer to classical statuary in order
to fill out or enhance aspects of their compositions.
Nor was it atypical for genre painters to incorporate
statues into their works, often as a sly comment upon
some amorous theme. Artists such as Gabriel Metsu
and – closer to Boilly’s own country and era – JosephMarie Vien, Hubert Robert, or Fragonard all did so
frequently. However, Watteau went further than most
in this regard, even inventing statues, presumably to
ensure that his stone figures could adequately comment
upon their human counterparts. Thus, the sleeping
nymph who introduces a flicker of eroticism into the
civilized group disporting themselves in the lower right
Statues play a similar role in Boilly’s Sorrows of Love.
Painted as part of the initial four works destined for
Calvet de Lapalun, this is a dramatic composition in
which love has gone wrong. An unfortunate damsel
swoons as her portrait and a sealed letter are presented
to her while a manservant, the likely bearer of these
items, speedily exits the scene. On the right-hand side
of the painting, the small female figure perched on
the mantlepiece beside the clock resembles Psyche, the
plaster model shown at the Salon of 1761 by ÉtienneMaurice Falconet as a pendant to his Menacing Cupid
and subsequently used as a model for the Sèvres
Manufactory.23 This clever allusion to Psyche – who
like the subject of Boilly’s painting, was abandoned – is
repeated in the pose of the swooning protagonist. She
flings her arm across her chest in a manner recalling the
marble sculpture by Augustin Pajou, for which a plaster
model was exhibited at the Salon of 1785 (fig. 6).
Fig. 6 / Augustin Pajou,
Psyche Abandoned, 1790,
marble, 177 x 86 x 86 cm,
Paris, Musée du Louvre.
Fig. 7 / Detail, The Sorrows
of Love (belt-buckle of the
swooning protagonist; the
crouching figure appears in
the left medallion).
Cleaning has suggested a third allusion to Psyche
in the previously invisible detail of a nude hidden
at the centre of the composition in the woman’s belt
buckle (fig. 7). It is not unusual to find a classical
motif embedded within such an accessory. Boilly
appears to have reproduced with great precision the
contemporary vogue for belts worn high on the waist,
made of cut steel with Jasperware medallions, into
which were inserted depictions of classical themes.24
Here, however, the figure in the buckle may be a
private joke, made for the delectation of those who
knew where to look for it. This tiny figure, created with
a few brushstrokes and measuring just 5 mm, resembles
a naked woman in the pose of the Crouching Venus of
which several examples were known in the eighteenth
century.25 But it also curiously resembles another figure
of a Psyche, this time by the rising leader of the French
school: Jacques-Louis David (fig. 8).


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