Nicolas Poussin: A Dance to the Music of Time / Tanz des Lebens, ca. 1634-1636, Öl auf Leinwand, 825 x 1040 mm. Inv. Nr. P108, The Wallace Collection, London
Salvatore Tresca nach Louis-Léopold Boilly: La folie du jour, Punktierstich, 445 x 593 mm. Inv. Nr. 5814 LR, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques, Paris
The works of the French artist Louis-Léopold Boilly can be seen as picturesque interpretations of life during the Revolution, under the Directoire and during the Empire. In about 1800, during the Classicism of the Napoleonic era, Boilly was the most important French genre painter. His watercoloured pen-and-ink drawings trenchantly demonstrate his acute powers of observation and his sensitively subtle approach, which are conveyed in his portrayal of the social manners of his time.
'The Folly of the Day' shows a young, fashionably dressed couple gazing fervently at each other as they execute a perfect and elegant dance. They seem oblivious to the violinist sitting to one side and playing for them. In the shadow of this elated youthful happiness, his presence seems all the more threatening. Having been supplied with sufficient wine, he is looking intently at the dancing lovers. His careworn facial features and the noticeably haggard figure under his clothes clearly indicate that he is the personification of Death.
Boilly derived the scheme for the composition of his drawing from an engraving after the painting 'The Dance of Life' by Nicolas Poussin (Wallace Collection, London). This famous seventeenth-century work, in which Chronos, as the mythological ruler over Time, strikes up the music for the dance, inspired Boilly to appeal to the moral understanding of his fellow citizens in an idiosyncratic but contemporary manner.
Boilly repeated his drawing in exaggerated form in a painting of almost the same format. By showing the violinist sticking out his tongue at the couple, he underscores more clearly the satirical character of the scene, which is a symbol for the carefree "dance" of a foolish Parisian society under the Directoire. This and three further paintings by Boilly after similar drawings were to be found initially in the possession of Salvatore Tresca (ca. 1750-1815), who used them as models to produce mirror-image etchings. The four prints after Boilly registered in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in the spring of 1797 were published under the title 'Les Folies du Jour' together with etchings after drawings by other contemporary artists such as Carle Vernet and Jean-Baptiste Isabey.
Boilly's 'La Folie du Jour' and the three other drawings found their way into the extensive collection of social satires belonging to the singer Simon Chenard, a good friend of the artist. Boilly acted as an important stimulus for his contemporaries, such as the English artist Thomas Rowlandson, but was above all also a forerunner of the French caricaturists of the nineteenth century, including Honoré Daumier.