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Louis-Léopold Boilly

(1761 La Bassée – 1845 Paris)

Réjouissance publique. (Public Festival). Lithograph on Chine appliqué. 41 x 49.7 cm. 1826. Harrisse 1219; I.B.N.F. 32.

Louis-Léopold Boilly, who distinguished himself as a painter, draughtsman and lithographer, received his first instruction in drawing from his father. In 1775 he went to the northern French towns of Douai and Arras where he earned his living with small-format portraits. In 1785 the artist settled in Paris, where he again began to work as a portraitist and author of genre depictions of amorous escapades. With time, however, Boilly developed an independent and novel version of the genre scene, becoming a humorous and observant chronicler of his times, who followed the everyday life of the French metropolis with an alert and increasingly critical eye. Although Boilly had initially confined his painting to small formats, he gradually turned in the course of his artistic development to monumental, complex depictions of social mores. People from all walks of life come together in all sorts of subtly observed situations, thus evoking – like Balzac’s Comédie humaine – a colourful, kaleidoscopic, yet true-to-life picture of French society in the first half of the 19th century. Boilly was also a pioneer in the field of lithography in France, having recognized at an early stage the potential this medium offered to publishing. He produced an extensive printed oeuvre  distinguished by the brilliance of draughtmanship and considerable technical refinement.

The present large-format scene is a perfect example of his artistic skills. We are shown a large gathering of people in the Champs Élysees during the Restoration period. Wine is being served from a high wooden platform to the thirsty crowds. With a keen eye for detail and a feel for the anecdotal element, Boilly has characterized the various protagonists in the truest sense of the word. Although most of the characters are of humble origin, here and there we can discern well-dressed Parisian citizens in the heaving mass of humanity. In front of the platform a pyramid has formed of furiously raging, intertwined men who are fighting in vain for a drink of the coveted liquid, thus symbolizing the futility of human endeavour. Boilly shows us a genuine comédie humaine: in the heat of the moment the struggling men do not notice that down below two little boys are calmly helping themselves from a small cask of wine.

A superb, contrasting impression with margins. Minor ageing, minimal defects in the margins, otherwise in excellent condition. From the collection François Heugel (Lugt 3373).

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