Christie’s cover lot for the Old Master sale is this 19th Century painting by Louis Leopold Boilly. As Alan Wintermute explains in the catalogue note and in the videos from the press preview (below), Boilly was the first painter of “modern life.” There are only 20 of these types of painting by Boilly–as opposed to the 4500 small society portraits that are said to exist–because these works were not Boilly’s bread-and-butter business but his artistic vision.
A self-taught painter from Lille who started his career as a portraitist and painter of small-scale, erotic genre scenes, Boilly turned after the Revolution to the creation of large, formally complex, multi-figural scenes of contemporary public life which he submitted to the Salon exhibitions of the Louvre with the goal of winning popular and official recognition. ‘Boilly’s hopes of having his paintings catch the attention of visitors to the crowded exhibitions rested largely on his choice of subject’, Siegfried observed. He selected unusual public spectacles, generally associated with urban leisure, such as the entertainments afforded the throngs in The Entrance to the Turkish Garden Café, a painting which he exhibited to great success at the Salons of 1812 and 1814.
The Entrance to the Turkish Garden Café is one of the most ambitious and technically accomplished paintings of Boilly’s career, in which the artist effortlessly integrated more than sixty figures into a dazzlingly diverse portrait of contemporary Parisian society during Napoleon’s imperial reign.