Louis-Léopold Boilly

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. His 1800 painting Un Trompe-l'œil introduced the term trompe-l'œil ("trick the eye"), applied to the technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions, though the "unnamed" technique itself had existed in Greek and Roman times.

Louis-Léopold Boilly
Lille PBA Boilly autoportrait.jpg
Self-portrait c. 1793
Louis-Léopold Boilly

(1761-07-05)5 July 1761[1]
Died4 January 1845(1845-01-04) (aged 83)
Known forPortrait painting, genre painting

Life and careerEdit

An early (between 1804 and 1807) trompe-l'œil piece by Boilly, similar to his etymological Un trompe-l'œil of 1800
Le triomphe de Marat, 1794
The Arrival of a Mail-coach in the Courtyard of the Messageries, 1803, Musée du Louvre[2]
The Geography Lesson (Portrait of Monsieur Gaudry and His Daughter), 1812

Boilly was born in La Bassée in northern France,[3] the son of a local wood sculptor.[4] A self-taught painter, Boilly began his career at a very young age, producing his first works at the age of twelve or thirteen.[2] In 1774 he began to show his work to the Augustinians of Douai who were evidently impressed: within three years, the bishop of Arras invited him to work and study in his diocese. While there, he produced a cascade of paintings – some three hundred small works of portraiture.[2] He received instruction in trompe-l'œil painting from Dominique Doncre (1743–1820)[5] before moving to Paris around 1787.[2]

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.[6] This offence was remedied by Boilly's eleventh-hour production of the more patriotic Triumph of Marat (now in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Lille) which saved him from serious penalties.[6]

Boilly was a popular and celebrated painter of his time. He was among the first artists to produce lithographs, and became wealthy from the sale of his prints and paintings. 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.[2]

Boilly died in Paris on 4 January 1845.[2] His youngest son, Alphonse Boilly (1801–1867), was a professional engraver who apprenticed in New York with Asher Brown Durand.[7]

Style and worksEdit

Entrance to the Jardin Turc, 1812
Incroyable parade, 1797
Fine art Connoisseurs, c. 1823–1828, lithograph with hand coloring

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 of the urban middle class.[8] In these works, his observation of contemporary customs is slightly sentimental and often humorous.[6]

Boilly was also well respected for his portraiture. By the end of his lifetime he had painted about 5,000 portraits, most of which were painted on canvases measuring 22 cm x 17 cm (8 5/8 in. x 6 5/8 in.).[8] He worked quickly, and boasted of requiring only two hours to complete a portrait.[8] He painted both middle class sitters and prominent contemporaries such as Robespierre.[6] Boilly's portraits strongly characterize the sitters as individuals, and are usually painted in a sober range of colors.[6]

Boilly used his great skill in depicting textures to produce numerous illusionistic works, including paintings in grisaille that mimic prints.[6] In the Salon of 1800 he exhibited a painting that depicted layers of overlapping prints, drawings, and papers, covered by a sheet of broken glass in a wooden frame. His title for the work, Un trompe-l'œil ("a trick played on the eye"), marked the first use of that term to describe an illusionistic painting. Although art critics derided the painting as a stunt, it caused a popular sensation, and trompe-l'œil entered the language as a name for an entire genre.[9]

His interest in caricature is most apparent in his suite of 98 lithographs titled Recueil de grimaces, published between 1823 and 1828.[10]

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).[11] The Musée des Beaux Arts in Lille held a large-scale exhibition of Boilly's work during the winter season of 2011–2012.[12]

Selected worksEdit


  1. ^ Whitlum-Cooper, Francesca (2019). Boilly: Scenes of Parisian Life. London: National Gallery Company. p. 12. ISBN 9781857096439.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Rose Georgina Kingsley (1899). A history of French art, 1100–1899. London: Longmans, Green. p. 378. OCLC 3677192. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  4. ^ "The J. Paul Getty Museum: Louis-Léopold Boilly". J. Paul Getty Trust. 2011. Archived from the original on 6 December 2009. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Chaudonneret, M.arie-Claude (2003, January 01). "Boilly, Louis-Léopold". Grove Art Online.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b c Taws, Richard (9 May 2019). "At the National Gallery". London Review of Books 40 (9): 26–27.
  9. ^ Whitlum-Cooper, Francesca (2019). Boilly: Scenes of Parisian Life. London: National Gallery Company. p. 25. ISBN 9781857096439.
  10. ^ Whitlum-Cooper, Francesca (2019). Boilly: Scenes of Parisian Life. London: National Gallery Company. p. 30. ISBN 9781857096439.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Exposition Boilly". Pba-lille.fr. Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille. 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit