The Wallace Collection

Louis-Léopold Boilly: The Visit Returned and The Sorrows of Love
Treasure of the Month - November 2011

Louis-Léopold Boilly: The Visit Returned and The Sorrows of Love

These two paintings form part of a series of eleven works which was executed for an Avignonese nobleman and lawyer, Antoine Joseph François Xavier Calvet de Lapalun (1736-1820) between 1789 and 1792. Boilly was at that time at the beginning of his career and had recently settled in Paris. All eleven scenes of the series evolve around love in its different aspects and are set in an upper-middle class context. The characters are types as they could also appear on stage. The Visit Returned shows a woman entering the room of a man apparently just writing a letter to her as indicated by her portrait above his desk. The Sorrows of Love shows a similar portrait returned to its female sitter, symbol of the breaking up of a relationship. Both paintings emphasise drama, emotion and mystery. The series does not tell a consistent, continuous story. Instead, it presents different variations and constellations. Boilly’s scenes continue a tradition in French painting of fashionable, contemporary interior scenes with easily recognisable situations played by stock characters.

Stylistically, they closely emulate the detailed and highly polished polished style of the Dutch genre painters, in particular by Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu, Gerard ter Borch and Gaspar Netscher who were highly fashionable among French collectors of the period.

The series for Calvet de Lapalun became the classic example of this typical eighteenth-century genre in Boilly’s work. It is understandable that they were later used by the Revolutionary authorities to accuse the painter of his Ancien Régime leanings. Boilly had to paint a triumph of the revolutionary leader Marat (Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts) to distance himself from these early commissions.

A retrospective of Boilly’s work is on show at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, France, until 6 February 2012, where other paintings from the series will be shown. Lille can easily be reached on the Eurostar.

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2011. Text by Christoph Vogtherr

Gallery Talks
1 pm Monday 7 and Thursday 24 November. Christoph Vogtherr Director.

Further Reading

  • Susan L. Siegfried : The Art of Louis-Léopold Boilly. Modern Life in Napoleonic France, New Haven/London1995.
  • Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845), exhibition, Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille/Paris 2011.