Louis-Léopold Boilly

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Louis-Léopold Boilly, self-portrait

Louis-Léopold Boilly (French: [bwɑji]; 5 July 1761 – 4 January 1845) was a French painter and draftsman. A gifted creator of popular portrait paintings, he also produced a vast number of genre paintings vividly documenting French middle-class social life. His life and work spanned the eras of monarchical France, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Empire, the Bourbon Restoration and the July Monarchy.

Life and career[edit]

Le triomphe de Marat 1794
The Arrival of a Mail-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries (1803, Musée du Louvre)[1]
Louis-Léopold Boilly - The Geography Lesson (Portrait of Monsieur Gaudry and His Daughter)
Point-de-Convention 1797

Boilly was born in La Bassée in northern France,[2] the son of a local wood sculptor.[3] A self-taught painter, Boilly began his career at a very young age, producing his first works at the age of twelve or thirteen.[1] In 1774 he began to show his work to the Austin friars of Douai who were evidently impressed: within three years, the bishop of Arras invited the young man to work and study in his bishopric. While there, he produced a cascade of paintings – some three hundred small works of portraiture.[1] He received instruction in trompe l'oeil painting from Dominique Doncre (1743–1820)[4] before moving to Paris around 1787.[1]

At the height of the revolutionary Terror in 1794, Boilly was condemned by the Committee of Public Safety for the erotic undertones of his work. This offence was remedied by an eleventh-hour discovery in his home of the more patriotic Triumph of Marat (now in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Lille) which saved him from serious penalties.

Boilly was a popular and celebrated painter of his time. He was awarded a medal by the Parisian Salon in 1804 for his work The Arrival of a Mail-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries. In 1833 he was decorated as a chevalier of the nation's highest order, the Légion d'honneur.[1]

Boilly died in Paris on 4 January 1845.[1] His youngest son, Alphonse Boilly (1801–1867), was a professional engraver who apprenticed in New York with Asher Brown Durand.[5]

Style and works[edit]

Louis-Léopold Boilly- Entrance to the Jardin Turc
Boilly, Incroyable parade

Boilly's early works showed a preference for amorous and moralising subjects. The Suitor's Gift is comparable to much of his work in the 1790s. His small-scale paintings with carefully mannered colouring and precise detailing recalled the work of seventeenth-century Dutch genre painters such as Gabriël Metsu (1629–1667), Willem van Mieris and Gerard ter Borch (1617–1681), of whose work Boilly owned an important collection. After 1794, Boilly began to produce far more crowded compositions that serve as social chronicles. Boilly was also well respected for his portraiture, producing many portraits of the middle classes and other famous contemporaries.

Boilly remains a highly regarded master of oil painting. A major exhibition of his work, The Art of Louis-Léopold Boilly: Modern Life in Napoleonic France, travelled to the United States where it was shown at both the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and the National Gallery of Art in Washington (1995).[6] The Musée des Beaux Arts in Lille held its most recent large-scale exhibition of Boilly's work during the winter season of 2011–2012.[7]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Léonce Bénédite (1910). Great painters of the XIXth century and their paintings. London: Sir I. Pitman and sons. pp. 51–52. OCLC 4537324. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  2. ^ Rose Georgina Kingsley (1899). A history of French art, 1100–1899. London: Longmans, Green. p. 378. OCLC 3677192. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  3. ^ "The J. Paul Getty Museum: Louis-Léopold Boilly". J. Paul Getty Trust. 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  4. ^ Armelle Baron; Pierre Baron (1986). L'art dentaire à travers la peinture (in French). Paris: ACR. p. 231. ISBN 978-2-86770-016-3. Retrieved 2 August 2011. Il a été élève du peintre de trompe-lœil Dominique Doncre.
  5. ^ Kenneth Myers; Hudson River Museum (1987). The Catskills: painters, writers, and tourists in the mountains, 1820–1895. Hudson River Museum. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-943651-05-7. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  6. ^ Etienne Bréton, Pascal Zuber (2011). "Catalogue Raisonné de Louis Léopold Boilly" (in French). Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  7. ^ "Exposition Boilly". Pba-lille.fr. Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille. 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]