January 28, 2010
LOS ANGELES—The J. Paul Getty Museum announced today the acquisition of L’Entrée au Jardin Turc (The Entrance to the Turkish Garden) by Louis-Léopold Boilly, one of the few important paintings by the artist still in private hands.
Crisply painted in glowing colors and teeming with anecdotal detail, Boilly’s picture transports viewers to the heart of Napoleonic Paris, outside the entrance to the city’s most celebrated café, the Jardin Turc. Located in the Marais at 28, boulevard du Temple, the establishment offered its middle-class clientele pleasures once reserved for the aristocracy. Founded in 1780, the Jardin Turc comprised an elegant garden, restaurant, and café housed in a series of tented pavilions whose crescent finials and oriental decor reflected an eighteenth-century taste for turquerie.
“L’Entrée au Jardin Turc is one of Boilly’s greatest paintings, and a brilliant addition to the Getty Museum’s collection,” says Michael Brand, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, in making the announcement. “The rarity of Boilly’s work outside of France, along with the way this painting fits in with other works by the artist in our collection and that of the Getty Research Institute, make this new acquisition a particularly important one for the Getty, as well as for the larger art community in Los Angeles. I am very pleased to be able to conclude this acquisition as one of my last actions as director of the Getty Museum.”
In the painting, Boilly focuses his attention not on the café, but on the spectacle of the crowded street outside. Young and old, fashionable and not, these Parisians take evident pleasure in the novel social promiscuity permitted by the tree-lined boulevard that would come to define the Parisian cityscape.
Boilly punctuated his composition with a series of figures who seem to return the viewer’s gaze. At the rightmost edge of the canvas, Boilly has inserted himself in spectacles and a top hat looking steadily out of the picture. During the years when he worked on this painting, the artist was living in the rue Meslay, about 10 minutes from the Jardin Turc.
Having garnered a small fortune and a reputation for the refinement and speed of his work, Boilly moved in 1785 to Paris, where he painted precious genre scenes for a largely aristocratic clientele. These diminutive, jewel-like works reveal Boilly’s debt to seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish masters like Gabriel Metsu and Gerard ter Borch, whose work Boilly collected. Sentimental and episodic, Boilly’s genre scenes bear comparison to those of Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Like their work, Boilly’s often carries a mildly erotic subtext. His boudoir pictures met with considerable commercial success, if little official esteem.
The French Revolution brought radical changes to the art world in France. In 1794, menaced by the Jacobin Société républicaine des arts because of his decadent subject matter and clientele, Boilly painted a patriotic Triumph of Marat, which both placated the revolutionary regime and demonstrated his ability to produce pictures of greater ambition and scale. Although he would continue to paint small, private genre scenes, from this point on, Boilly’s most important works concerned themselves with Parisian public life.
L’Entrée au Jardin Turc complements the Museum’s collection of early-nineteenth-century French paintings, including Jacques-Louis David’s two splendid portraits, Suzanne Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau (1804) and The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte (1821). As a Parisian street scene, L’Entrée au Jardin Turc also foreshadows Manet’s more somber Rue Mosnier (1878), with its walled facades and uneasy mingling of social classes. As a scene of Parisians at leisure, Boilly’s picture anticipates the Impressionist project reflected in Renoir’s La Promenade (1870).
Other works by Boilly at the Getty include one drawing in chalk in the collection of the Getty Museum and a partial set of lithographs after his Grimaces in the collection of the Getty Research Institute. In other Los Angeles public collections, works by Boilly can be found at the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena (a pair of genre scenes) and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (a landscape sketch, a pair of small portraits, and the profile sketch of Madame Boilly used for the woman in white at the far left in L’Entrée au Jardin Turc).
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