Louis-Leopold Boilly

La jarretière

Oil on paper laid down on panel: 10.9(h) x 8.6(w) in /

27.6(h) x 21.9(w) cm

Signed lower right: boilly.

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BV 220



La Bassée 1761 – 1845 Paris


La jarretière

Signed lower right: boilly. Oil on paper laid down on panel: 10 7/8 x 8 5/8 in / 27.6 x 21.9cm

Frame size: 16 x 12 ¼ in / 40.6 x 31.1 cm

In a period Louis XV carved and gilded frame


Painted circa 1789-93


Provenance: Probably Comte Adolphe-Narcisse Thibaudeau (1795-1856), France; his sale, Laneuville-Delbergue, Paris, 13th-14th March 1857, lot 19; Richard Seymour-Conway (1800-1870), 4th Marquess of Hertford, 1861, by whom bequeathed to his son Sir Richard Wallace, 1st Bt. (1818-1890); his wife Amelie-Julie-Charlotte, Lady Wallace (1819-1897), by whom bequeathed to Sir John Edward Arthur Murray Scott (1847-1912), by whom bequeathed to Victoria Sackville-West, Baroness Sackville, 1912; by whom sold to Galerie Jacques Seligmann & Fils, Paris (inv. no.8463), circa 1914, by whom sold to Charles W Clark, New York, 1921 (85,000 francs);

by descent to a private collector, USA Exhibited: Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, L’art du XVIIIe siècle, December 1883-January 1884, p.5, cat. no.3 (lent by Sir Richard Wallace as La toilette) Literature: Inventory of works removed from the Château de Bagatelle, Paris, August 1871, no.940 (‘Boilly, femme se chaussant’) P Robineau (notaire), Inventaire après décès of the possessions of Sir John Murray Scott found at 2 Rue Laffitte, Paris, 16th February ff., 1912[1] H Harrisse, L-L Boilly, peintre, dessinateur et lithographe: sa vie et son oeuvre (1761-1845): étude suivie d’une description de treize cent soixante tableaux, portraits, dessins et lithographies de cet artiste, Paris 1898, no.326, p.112 J Ingamells, The Wallace Collection. Catalogue of Pictures III. French before 1815, London, 1999, p.384, no.6


To be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Louis-Léopold Boilly being prepared by Etienne Bréton and Pascal Zuber, cat. no.181P



Painted circa 1789-93, as France descended into the storm of the Revolution, this work exudes the wit and sensuality of the Ancien Régime. Espied in a shadowy bedroom, pulling on her stocking, the young woman turns with a frank and affectionate gaze, thus making the spectator of the picture complicit in this intimate moment. Trained in Arras in northern France, not far from the Flemish border, Boilly had moved to Paris in 1785. He took his inspiration from the seventeenth century Netherlandish cabinet pictures which were so avidly collected by his patrons; his works consciously complemented them. La jarretière emulates the exquisite, crepuscular interiors and teasing eroticism of works by Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667) and Caspar Netscher (1639-1684), while his technique recalls the work of the supreme Leiden fijnschilder Gerrit Dou (1613-1675). In his handling of textiles, particularly the satin of the young woman’s clothes, Boilly is particularly close to Gerard Terborch (1617-1681), who often used a glamorous, billowing white skirt to light up the centre of his compositions. The fine Louis XVI furniture, the ribbons spilling from the box and the palette of rose, lilac, white and blue are however quintessentially Parisian in their elegance.


The picture plane is shallow and the scene is set against a plain background of gently pulsating brown hues, focussing attention on the single figure and drawing the spectator into a more intense relationship with her. The air of a stage set and of moral ambiguity reflects the influence that contemporary plays and novels had on such genre paintings. Two masterpieces of the era, Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) and Pierre Beaumarchais’s The Marriage of Figaro (1784), toy with the ideas of female virtue and the seesaw power balances of amorous intrigue. In La jarretière, is the young woman innocent or experienced? Is she surprised in her cosy domestic setting by the arrival of a husband, or the illicit visit of a lover? A clue may lie in the artful disarray of the ribbons which spill from the box, painted with a delicacy which rivals the miniature still lifes in the genre scenes of David Teniers (1610-1690). In Boilly’s paintings, inanimate objects bring a sense of movement and suppressed or overt excitement which underlines the drama: the toppled chair of Push hard (Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena, CA), or the symbolism of endangered virtue in Young woman ironing, c.1800 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), where the diaphanous cloth droops towards the burning brazier. In La jarretière, the ribbons serve a practical purpose (to tie the stocking), but their disarray enhances the sense of haste and expectation.


Boilly’s sublime ability in the setting up of these ambiguities caused him to fall foul of the puritanical atmosphere of the Terror. In 1794 his Lovers and the escaped bird (Musée du Louvre, Paris) was denounced to the Comité du Salut Publique by fellow artist Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Wicar as ‘d’une obscenité révoltante pour les moeurs républicaine’. (Revolutions have ever been useful in the settling of professional scores). Boilly avoided the guillotine by painting The triumph of Marat, 1794 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille), shortly after Citizen Marat had gained his just deserts at the hands of Charlotte Corday. 


The provenance

This painting has a provenance worthy of the twists and turns of a French novel. It probably first appears in the collection of Comte Adolphe-Narcisse Thibaudeau (1795-1856), son of one of Napoleon’s Ministers and editor of the radical paper Le National. By 1861 it was owned by Richard Seymour-Conway (1800-1870), 4th Marquess of Hertford, son of the libertine and Francophile 3rd Marquess. The 4th Marquess inherited his father’s superb collection of French paintings, sculpture and furniture, much of which was housed at the Château de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne, and added greatly to it.


The 4th Marquess left the Château de Bagatelle, Hertford House in London and his art collections to his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace, 1st Bt. (1818-1890), who added many more paintings and objects on his own account. Lady Wallace, on her death in 1897, bequeathed the works of art on the ground and first floors of Hertford House to the nation, where today they form the Wallace Collection. The Château de Bagatelle, 2 Rue Laffitte and their treasures, including La jarretière, she left to her husband’s secretary, Sir John Murray Scott (1847-1912), who became Chairman of Trustees at the Wallace Collection and a Trustee of the National Gallery.


On Murray Scott’s sudden death in 1912, his siblings were astonished to learn that the contents of 2 Rue Laffitte and £150,000 had been left to Lady Sackville, illegitimate daughter of the 2nd Baron Sackville and a Spanish dancer, who had married her first cousin Lionel Sackville-West, 3rd Baron Sackville. The chatelaine of Knole House was a powerfully persuasive woman, always on the lookout for funds to support her lavish lifestyle; her cynical, decadent milieu is neatly skewered in her daughter Vita Sackville-West’s novel, The Edwardians (1930). Victoria cultivated the shy and portly Sir John, whom she nicknamed ‘Seery’, baby-talk for ‘Monsieur’, from his French origins. The stage was set for a battle between the Murray Scotts and the Baroness in the Probate Court in 1913, to the delight of Press and public. Two famous barristers – FE Smith and Sir Edward Carson (nemesis of Oscar Wilde) – faced off against each other. Lady Sackville won, cleared of ‘undue influence’ in the matter of Murray Scott’s Will, and promptly sold the Rue Laffitte collections – La jarretière among them – to her friend the Paris art dealer Jacques Seligmann.


Of at least seventeen paintings by Boilly owned by Sir Richard Wallace, only three – The visit returned, c.1789, The sorrows of love, c.1790 and The dead mouse, c.1793, remain in the Wallace Collection[2]. Interestingly, they come from the same phase of Boilly’s career as La jarretière; The dead mouse has a young mother wearing very similar clothing to the young woman in the former. The visit returned and The sorrows of love, like La jarretière, are galant subjects, dealing with love, sensibility and sensuousness. The rest of Wallace’s Boillys are scattered among the world’s museums and collectors.


Sir John Murray Scott, Chairman of the Trustees of the Wallace Collection.


Victoria Sackville-West, Lady Sackville.


La Bassée 1761 – 1845 Paris



Louis-Léopold Boilly was one of the most important recorders of Parisian life during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. The son of a woodcarver, Arnould-Polycarpe Boilly (1764-1779), he lived in Douai until 1778, when he went to Arras to receive a possible instruction in trompe l’oeil painting from Dominique Doncre (1743-1820). In 1785 Boilly moved to Paris. Between 1789 and 1791 he painted six small scenes on moralising and amorous themes for the Avignon collector Esprit-Claude-François Calvet (1728-1810). He exhibited at the Salon between 1791 and 1824, receiving a gold medal in 1804. In 1833, having survived all the Revolutionary upheavals, he was admitted to the Légion d’honneur and the Institut de France.


Boilly’s early works (1790-1800) are moralising, sentimental and amorous pieces in the tradition of Fragonard and Greuze. His exquisite touch and colouring recall the work of seventeenth century Dutch genre painters such as Metsu and Terborch, and he in fact owned an important collection of their work (sold Paris, 13th-14th April 1824). Boilly’s eroticism fell foul of the Comité du Salut Public in 1794 at the height of the Terror; his painting Lovers and the escaped bird was denounced by the artist Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Wicar and he was accused of painting subjects ‘d’une obscénité révoltante pour les moeurs républicaines’ (J. Soc. Pop. & Républicaine A., April/May 1794, pp.381-3). Boilly escaped the guillotine by painting The triumph of Marat, 1794 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille). Although a sharp observer of humankind, he was essentially apolitical.


After 1800 Boilly turned to scenes of popular and street life, crowded with figures and acutely observed. These include The arrival of a stagecoach in the Cour des Messageries, 1803 and The entrance to the Ambigu Comic Theatre, 1819 (both Louvre, Paris). He had a gift for caricature both as painter and printmaker, parodying the absurd fashions which flourished despite Revolutionary austerity and, later, Napoleonic despotism.


Boilly painted a number of exquisitely detailed group portraits, including A gathering of artists in the studio of Isabey, 1798 (Louvre, Paris) and incisive single portraits of famous contemporaries like Robespierre (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille). He also painted historical events such as The departure of the volunteers in 1807 (Musée Carnavalet, Paris), concentrating on the emotions aroused by conscription rather the propaganda aspects of the event.  


The work of Louis-Léopold Boilly is represented in the Musée du Louvre, Paris; the Musée Carnavalet, Paris; the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille; the Wallace Collection, London; the National Gallery, London; the Hermitage, St Petersburg; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Art Institute of Chicago.

[1] Typescript in the Wallace Collection, London. 

[2] Ingamells, op. cit., pp.24-29, nos.P435, P473 and P479, all illus.

Old MasterLouis-Leopold Boilly