We are grateful to both Mr. Etienne Breton and Mr. Pascal Zuber for confirming the authenticity of this work, respectively, through in-person examination and photographs, and for their assistance with the writing of this note. The work will be included in their catalogue raisonné of the artist currently in preparation under no. 153P.
This unique erotic composition reveals an interior in which a woman, seated at left, crosses her right leg over her left knee in order to remove her shoe and compare her foot with that of her friend. Both have one red shoe and one blue shoe each; they have obviously exchanged them. The woman on the right, standing with her breasts casually uncovered, lifts her skirt. In the doorway a voyeur observes the scene with an interested, if not salacious air. Such licentious genre scenes caused their creator, Louis-Léopold Boilly, no little trouble during the so-called Reign of Terror (1793-94) for the loose morals they portrayed. With a polished technique, the artist here reveals how capable he is of rendering the intimacy of the scene through the magnificent play of fabrics and subtle lighting.
In the tradition ofFragonard, Greuze or even Marguerite Gérard, Boilly often painted scenes of gallantry, frequently with a moralising message. These are characterised by a limited number of figures, the use of a theatrical chiaroscuro
to highlight one or two protagonists, and the special care given to the rendering of the textures of fabrics. Boilly combined the light-hearted and lively spirit of Fragonard with a porcelain-like handling inspired by 17th
-century Dutch painting.
At least three versions of this composition, entitled Comparing Little Feet
, were made, including one now lost and only known through an engraving by Alexandre Chaponnier (fig. 1). The principal group of the scene is identical but the third figure is now on the floor, in a grotesque pose, trying to see even more. A wash drawing, preparatory for one of these now-lost compositions, appeared in the sale of the Lavalette collection on 11 November 1861. Harrisse also mentions a version painted in grisaille in imitation of the print . Comparing Little Feet
was the pendant of a second satire, The Favoured Lover
, a painting also engraved by Chaponnier, in which a woman whose breasts are likewise uncovered dashes to a bedroom door to close it while her lover sneaks out by another door in the background, carrying his clothes under his arm. Boilly figured by the way among the artists whom the painter Jean-Baptiste Wicar denounced to the Société des Arts for their prints, deemed revolting to republican mores .
The success of our composition is due to its reproduction in numerous engravings and other prints. The edition was announced in the Gazette de France
of 18 March 1791, which allows us to assign an earlier date to the original paintings. If the virtuosity of Boilly's mastery needs no further demonstration, Comparing Little Feet
is a good example of the saucy spirit of the end of the Ancien Régime.
 H. Harrisse, L.-L. Boilly, Peintre, Dessinateur, et Lithographe; sa Vie et son Œuvre, 1761-1845. Etude suivie d'une description de treize cent soixante tableaux, portraits, dessins et lithographies de cet artiste
, Paris, 1898, no
602, p. 141.
 Cited in J. Renouvier et A. de Montaiglon, Histoire de l'art pendant la Révolution (1789-1804), suivie d'une Etude sur J.-B. Greuze, Genève, 1996.