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Work The Arrival of the Stagecoach
Department of Paintings: French painting
The Arrival of the Stagecoach
© 2002 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski
The genre painter Louis-Léopold Boilly is illustrating a hitherto undepicted urban scene, the arrival of a stagecoach, and consequentlly the increasing role of travel in France in the early nineteenth century. Boilly, a precursor of the "painter of modern life", chronicles social life by representing people of different classes and professions. His formal model is 17th-century Dutch genre painting.
A slice of modern life
A diligence has just arrived in the cour des Messageries, where stagecoaches converged from all over France and Europe in the early 19th century. The stagecoach is in the parking space reserved for coaches coming from northern France and Belgium, indicated by the inscription on the wall. The people are of different social standing and ages: in the middle, a bourgeois being welcomed by his wife; on the left, a soldier with his arm around a flower seller who has her eye on an elegant officer; an old woman, perhaps a poor émigré, still sitting in the coach; delivery boys unloading packages. Boilly is above all interested in the scene's sentimental aspect, but he also evokes the growing role of transport in the early 19th century with the Napoleonic wars and the development of capitalism. He is describing an everyday urban event, a scene which falls within the domain of genre painting and was therefore considered inferior to history painting. This subject was unprecedented in the iconographic tradition of French genre painting, notably in the 18th century, for example in the work of Greuze.
A genre painting during the neoclassical period
Louis-Léopold Boilly painted this canvas in 1803 and presented it at the 1804 Salon, where he hoped to find a buyer. Although the picture was greatly appreciated, he did not sell it until much later. The work is in his second manner, which he developed during the Empire. During the Ancien Régime, Boilly had begun his career painting amorous subjects in the northern tradition. The Revolution enabled him to exhibit at the Salon but he was obliged to change his subject matter, which was considered immoral. He turned first to portraiture and was acclaimed at the 1798 Salon for his striking group portrait, Gathering of Artists in Isabey's Studio (Musée du Louvre). The Arrival of the Stagecoach is one of Boilly's first depictions of urban life, a genre which became his specialty (The Shower, Musée du Louvre). He was fond of chronicling social life, and can be considered a "painter of modern life" before his time.
An illusionist painting
Boilly is representing a real-life scene, for which he made a preparatory drawing (Musée du Louvre). The canvas includes several portraits. The man being kissed by his wife is the painter Guillon-Lethière, Boilly's friend. The groups of figures are harmoniously placed to the sides in the foreground and in the center further back. They all stand out against the long diagonal of the façade of the Messageries. Boilly's painstakingly detailed porcelain-like technique shows his admiration for 17th-century Dutch painting (Dou, Van Mieris).
BibliographySiegfried Susan L., "Boilly : de nouvelles images de la rue et de la circulation à Paris", in La Modernité avant Haussmann - Formes de l'espace urbain à Paris 1801-1853, Éditions Recherches, 2001, p. 285-288.
The Arrival of the Stagecoach
Oil on wood
H. 0.62 m; W. 1.08 m
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