Boilly at the Wallace Collection
Boilly at the Wallace Collection
This makes sense in the context of the drawings in
which both animals are absent. In La Peur enfantine the
little boy appears to react to some unseen element in
the natural landscape. Overall it should be said that
this drawing is characterized by a more spontaneous
atmosphere than either The Dead Mouse or L’Effroi. The
mother is simply dressed and the little boy appears
to have just climbed onto the low crumbling stone
bench on which he stands.36 In contrast L’Effroi is a
more staged composition. The mother’s dress and
coiffure recall the magnificent jacket and formal
hairdo of The Dead Mouse. As in the painting, the table
on which the little boy stands is incongruously high.
Looking at the three compositions as a group, it is
arguable that Boilly began with the more naturalistic
Peur enfantine, then transported his pairing indoors in
The Dead Mouse – where he was obliged to invent a
new reason for the boy’s fright. Perhaps ultimately he
felt that the composition could be made even more
effective. In L’Effroi he kept the mother and child, but
– in keeping with the progressive theatricality of these
three compositions – juxtaposed them with the striking
addition of the lively little monkey.
Admittedly these conjectures remain impossible to
prove barring in-depth examination of all three works.
But what can be said is this: if Boilly relied upon
Watteau for visual inspiration, he also appears to have
modelled certain aspects of his working process on the
example set by the Valenciennes master. His manner
of drawing appears for all intents and purposes to
conform to the “cut and paste” technique perfected by
Watteau in which figural groups and motifs are studied
on the page, then migrate from one canvas to another.
Fig. 11 / Louis-Léopold Boilly,
L’Effroi, black chalk and
stumping, heightened with
white chalk, 58.7 x 42.8 cm,
Private Collection.
Fig. 12 / Infrared reflectogram,
The Dead Mouse taken by Tager
Stonor Richardson using an
OSIRIS camera with an InGaAs
array sensor, operational
wavelength 0.9-1.7 μm.
There remains much to be said about Boilly and his
painterly process. The issues touched lightly upon
here – commercialization of supports, use of citations,
and repetition of motifs – show how richly deserving
Boilly’s oeuvre is of further technical examination,
one that encompasses the entirety of his production,
accounting for the many periods he traversed and the
numerous genres he attempted. But what emerges from
this summary look at the three paintings in the Wallace
Collection is that – even at a relatively early stage in
his career – Boilly was unquestionably an artist whose
practice and instincts set him on the cusp of modernity.


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