The Art of Louis-Léopold Boilly - Siegfried, Susan L. - Yale University Press
Art and Architecture

Published in association with the Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, and the National Gallery of Art, W  

The Art of Louis-Léopold Boilly

Modern Life in Napoleonic France

  • Susan L. Siegfried
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Boilly has long been recognized as the most significant painter of everyday life in Napoleonic France, one whose portraits and genre scenes provide delightful illustrations of the period. In this book Susan Siegfried argues that Boilly's paintings should be read not just for their documentary detail but also for their wider cultural significance—for the light they shed on social and sexual tensions of the era.


According to Siegfried, Boilly viewed the Revolution not as a political event but as a force that redefined social attitudes and behavior. His paintings of street scenes contained a new middle-class imagery of modern life. Boilly avoided the straightforward narratives and focused composition of contemporary history painting, and there was a deliberate ambiguity in his paintings that reflected his own uneasy position within the middle class. His paintings also reveal his distinctive interest in spectatorship and the act of viewing, and Siegfried contends that his work represents a peculiarly modern politics of spectatorship and involves us in a self-conscious dialogue between picturing and viewing. In fact, says Siegfried, Boilly's representation of women and boys as highly eroticized objects raises important issues of gendered viewing. Boilly emerges in this innovative study as an intriguing figure who fashioned new pictorial formulas that appealed to connoisseurs of his era and of ours and whose works illuminate important aspects of life in France after the Revolution.


This beautiful book will accompany an exhibit on Boilly to be held at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Siegfried is the curator of this exhibition.

Susan L. Siegfried is research projects manager at the Getty Art History Information Program.