This is Boilly’s first ever exhibition in this country, and the works come from just one collection – that of Harry Hyams, the businessman and art lover who built Centre Point. Hyams died in 2015, and this exhibit is just the first morsel of his enormous art collection to be displayed to the public. Apparently, the majority of the pieces on display have never been catalogued or photographed.
The exhibition begins with Boilly's early work, from just before and just after the French Revolution. He began his career as something of a mild pornographer, and in the first of two adjacent paintings a pair of young women playfully remove their stockings to compare the size of their feet; in the second, much more risqué piece of erotica, another pair of females in a respectable drawing room get down to some serious kissing. Boilly was hauled before a committee for his immoral pre-Revolutionary work but was spared.
These pieces are more than just titbits of titillation though. Boilly’s early faces have a cartoonish, pixyish slyness about them. His attention to still life details and his way of handling objects – reflective surfaces, delicate interiors, exquisite fabric folds – calls attention to itself.
This was an artist whose technical skill was renowned, self-aware and self-promoted: Boilly was showing off his equal expertise in oils, watercolours, ink, chalk, lithography and engravings. He was also a pioneer of ‘trompe l’oeil’ (he coined the term), the art of illusion and manipulation, making one medium imitate another. The best example might be A Girl at a Window, in which black-and-white composition plays with shadow and light to imitate a print to wonderful effect.
the Revolution, Boilly was one of the first artists to turn attention away from soft interiors to
large-scale crowd scenes, reflecting both the electric chaos of
changing French society and the lives of his patrons, the burgeoning middle class.
Chronicling a panorama of urban life in Paris, his home for over 60 years,
Boilly never loses his gift for the details and for witty, generous observation.
The sly faces, especially of his women, become deeper and more affecting, showing
everything from freedom and hilarity to grim resentment and hardship. His use
of black chalk and ink summons up the swirly, muggy atmosphere of
Paris – its filthy streets and the children and dogs rioting within them – while his
1832 masterpiece, A Carnival Scene, gives us a sprawl of activity, colour and energy.
This is only one room of paintings, but it’s a hugely fun one.
|What||Boilly: Scenes of Parisian Life, National Gallery review|
|Where||National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
28 Feb 19 – 19 May 19, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|