The Sorrows of Love, by Louis-Léopold Boilly

Boilly, during his long and life and career, was the unparalleled witness of everyday life in France in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I used several of his paintings as direct inspirations for scenes of my second novel, For the King. I love his down-to-earth style, his sense of observation and humor. And of course I would have been delighted to have a detail of one of his paintings on the cover (see covers 4 and 5 here.)

Boilly also painted sentimental genre scenes, like The Sorrows of Love, displayed at The Wallace Collection. See the contrast between the distraught look of the heroine and her happy countenance on her just returned portrait. Also the attitudes of the servants, sympathetic but wary of offering comfort. The frightened little dog hiding behind the guitar, the abandoned knitting (yes, you need four needles to knit a stocking, trust Boilly for this kind of detail.)

When I look at this painting, I always think of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, in particular the scene where Marianne has just received back from Willoughby the tokens of her love, so imprudently bestowed, and her sister Elinor tries her best to soothe her. Of course this was painted in 1790, twenty years before the novel was published, and yet I cannot help associating the two.

Boilly Sorrows of Love

Boilly the Sorrows of Love Wallace Collection

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5 Comments to “The Sorrows of Love, by Louis-Léopold Boilly”

  1. Penny says:

    Thank You. my tummy is a bit better but the arm is slow healing. but I was able to hang up the Boily and Gerard in my dining room. I hope they are not too low down. I made room for them by taking down the Trianon pictures. so now I have a cohesive theme of women. I am going to put up that second Gerard painting in a few days.

  2. What a fabulous painting – so many details that make up such an intriguing back story!

  3. Catherine Delors says:

    Penny – Yes, I believe we all find comfort in books and art. Hope you feel better soon, thanks in part to Monsieur Boilly’s painting!

    Ellen – Indeed Boilly was the virtuoso of everyday life. Looking again at this painting I see a strong physical likeness between the two ladies, hence my idea that they were sisters and the connection to Sense & Sensibility. The young woman ironing you posted is another understated masterpiece. This gives me the idea of doing a series on Boilly’s paintings.

  4. Ellen Moody says:

    Dear Catherine,

    As I wrote on ECW, Boilly’s young woman reminds me of Fragonard’s nymphs. He’s made his
    more somber, quiet, set her to work, and framed her in browns, and
    surrounded her with the implements of housework. It’s really a
    virtuoso piece. I paraphrase and quote from the entry in the
    catalogue of the recent exhibition of art work (_The Age of Watteau,
    Chardin, and Fragonard_) of The Young Woman Ironing:

    we see a glass dampening bottle on the chair beside her; a stove
    with red-hot coals on the table;
    a pair of tongs below her, heating the irons so hot she must wrap
    them up to hold them; bolts of
    cloth and undergarments stacked on the table before her.

    a scalloped porcelain bowl, crimson satin drape, pile of striped silks.

    There’s an ambiguity about this young’s woman’s station: is she a
    housewife, servant, someone who takes things in. She’s tidy and has a
    serious propriety of demeanour. The often wretched conditions of
    such work (the dark) are erased. She has a plunging neckline, but
    her expression is not flirtatious but rather blank with slightly averted eyes.

    The catalogue describes her as ” an object of delectation” in
    herself, the equivalent of the still-lifes surrounding her,” and the
    sexual symbolism of rococo takes over a scene which could be in a
    17th century genre painting (like Terborch’s of the young woman
    writing a letter).

    But she is also sweet and hard at work.

    I see Austen as more sombre myself but agree that others might present her figures like Boilly does. It would be a later 18th century version of Hugh Thomson’s illustrations — the popular art of the era.


  5. Penny says:

    This is great! I see the resemblance to the Austen scene you mention. Marianne was quite the drama queen wasn’t she?
    thank you again for another painter i like. but i am in bed again. i fell a 3rd time on 10/23 in the pm after talking to my closest male friend, well actually my only male friend. now i have to lie quietly for awhile with my heating pad on my shouder. and something for my head. but art cheers me up so thank you.

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