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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755
603.646.2808
hood.museum@dartmouth.edu

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Louis Leopold Boilly, French, 1761-1845

Young Woman Reading in a Landscape (Jeune femme lisant dans un paysage)
1798
Black chalk with sanguine highlights
Purchased through the Florence and Lansing Porter Moore 1937 Fund; D.2003.19

The notion that drawing was the basis for all of the fine arts coalesced in Italy during the Renaissance and was described by the term disegno, meaning both skill in rendering and creative design. Beginning in the early 1500s, the inventive process of drawing became more or less standardized, starting with preparatory sketches, continuing with more refined studies, and generally ending in elaborate compositions. By the end of the sixteenth century, the same approach was adopted by the early art academies, which also introduced the practices of copying masterworks and drawing nude models. While most of these sketches and studies functioned as fundamental parts of creating paintings, sculptures, and architecture, many artists also executed drawings as independent works of art. These finished compositions were done as early as the fifteenth century as studio models, mementos, and gifts for friends and colleagues. As singular works they were circulated within workshops, exchanged between patrons and artists, and occasionally displayed and sold publicly. Some were fully rendered, in order to explore various styles, media, and techniques of draftsmanship. Others were rapidly delineated inspirations based on existing works. The continuous appreciation by both artists and collectors for examples of unique artistic invention made finished drawings highly desirable objects in their own right.

By the mid-1700s, contemporary drawings were exhibited at major venues throughout Europe, including the Paris Salon organized by the Académie des Beaux-Arts (held consistently after 1737), the Accademia di San Luca in Rome (which established regular competitions beginning in 1754), and the annual exhibitions at London’s Royal Academy of Art (which opened in 1769). Although public displays undoubtedly elevated the status of drawings, the main focus of the art world remained centered around large-scale history paintings, and the academic tradition throughout Europe continued to emphasize primarily the utilitarian function of preparatory sketches and refined studies.

It was not until the 1790s, after the French Académie lost control of the Paris Salon exhibitions and they were then opened to all artists, that finished drawings became more prominent at the biennial event and received increased public attention. The more liberal conditions for exhibition and the larger number of objects that could be displayed allowed for the presentation of a variety of fully rendered sheets. The popular appeal of more private, intimate works of art remained strong into the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was in this context that Louis-Léopold Boilly presented Young Woman Reading in a Landscape at the Salon in 1798. Boilly established his reputation as a talented portraitist and genre painter at the Paris exhibitions beginning in 1789. This particular example’s technical virtuosity, attention to detail, and evocative atmosphere made it one of the artist’s most accomplished graphic compositions. The subject of a female figure reading in a pastoral setting also reflected the contemporary taste for informal scenes and landscapes. Young Woman Reading was apparently the only presentation drawing that Boilly ever exhibited at the Salon, where he continued to display his paintings until 1824.

Last Updated: 1/21/10