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Publication Detail
At the National Gallery
Louis-Léopold Boilly’s long life – his career began during the Ancien Régime and lasted until the final years of the July Monarchy – makes it hard not to view his work in parallel with the huge transformations that took place in French society during that period. Born near Lille in 1761, he received no formal training, but his early paintings impressed a local bishop, who arranged for him to work and study in Arras. When he arrived in Paris in 1785, Boilly specialised in cabinet paintings for private collectors. Two Young Women Kissing (c.1790), on display at the National Gallery’s small exhibition of his paintings (until 19 May), was previously catalogued as The Friends and Two Sisters, kidding absolutely nobody. These early works, heavy in innuendo and set in fashionable interiors, are far removed from the crowded Parisian street scenes that later became his stock in trade. Boilly’s concentration on frivolous or licentious topics pandering to the tastes of the Ancien Régime made him the subject of suspicion during the Terror, when he was denounced as a counter-revolutionary by a fellow artist Jean-Baptiste Wicar, and accused of making paintings that ‘dirty the walls of the Republic’. Forced to defend himself before the Société Populaire et Républicaine des Arts, Boilly was exonerated, largely due to his canny submission of a painting representing The Triumph of Marat (1794) and several other revolutionary works. It was lucky he could paint quickly.
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