Lot 66
  • 66

LOUIS-LÉOPOLD BOILLY | Comparing little feet

60,000 - 80,000 EUR
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  • Circle of Louis-Léopold Boilly
  • Comparing little feet
  • Signed lower left: Boilly
  • Oil on canvas
  • 45.8 x 38.4 cm ; 18  by 15 1/8  in.


Collection de M. Marcel Midy, 1939 ;
Collection privée, Belgique.


Paris, ancien Hôtel de Sagan, Louis-Léopold Boilly, 31 May - 22 June 1930, no. 42; 
Paris, musée Carnavalet, La Révolution française dans l'histoire, dans la littérature, dans l'art, 1939, p. 167, no. 1180. 


A. Dinaux, « Boilly », in Archives historiques et littéraires du Nord de la France et du Midi de la Belgique, Valenciennes 1849, t. IV, p. 200; 
Larousse, 1867, p. 877; 
J. S. Hallam, The genre Works of Louis-Léopold Boilly, University of Washington 1979, pp. 26, 28, 40, 45 and 205, repr. fig. 23.  


A l’œil nu : L’illustration du catalogue ne transmet pas toute la profondeur et le sens du détail de la composition. Le tableau apparaît dans un bon état de conservation, avec une griffure visible dans la robe grise du personnage féminin à gauche (visible dans l’illustration du catalogue). Il y a quelques petites retouches visibles près des bords de la toile. La peinture est couverte d’un beau réseau de craquelures un peu grossier dans la partie supérieure du tableau. La couche picturale semble un peu mince dans les parties sombres du vêtement du personnage de gauche. On remarque une petite retouche dans les craquelures près de la porte ouverte. A la lampe U.V. : On remarque un vernis vert irrégulier. On remarque les retouches mentionnées ci-dessus, ainsi qu’un petit repeint sur le pied gauche de la demoiselle de gauche, et quelques petites restaurations dans le vêtement noir du personnage masculin. Vendu avec un cadre sculpté et en bois doré avec quelques altérations dans la partie décorée. The actual painting shows more definition than the catalogue illustration would suggest. With the naked eye: The painting appears to be in good condition with a minor damage to the paint visible in the grey gown of the lady on the left (visible in the catalogue illustration). Some minor retouchings are visible around the edges of the canvas. Painted surface is covered with a fine craquelure pattern which is a bit coarsed in the upper part of the painting. Some minor thinness can be seen in the darker parts of the clothing of the lady on the left. Little retouching to the craquelure near the open door. Under UV light: The varnish layer fluoresces in parts, showing the retouchings mentioned above, as well as on the left foot of the lady on the left, and some in the black coat of the man. Offered with a carved and giltwood frame with some damages and chips to the wooden decoration.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

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 [1]. 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 [2].

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. 

[1]  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, n602, p. 141. [2] 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.