The Geography Lesson (Portrait of Monsieur Gaudry and His Daughter)
Oil on canvas
29 x 23 1/4 in. (73.6 x 59 cm)
Currently On View
Arriving in Paris in 1785, Louis-Léopold Boilly was witness to the collapse of the French monarchy, the struggle for modern republicanism, and the rise and fall of Napoleon’s empire. Although he was denounced for the allegedly corrupt morality of his works in 1794, he survived the Revolution and went on to become the most gifted genre painter in France during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was also one of the period’s most prolific portraitists. This portrait was shown in 1812 and again in 1814 at the Paris Salon (the large, highly publicized, state-sponsored exhibition of contemporary art). It depicts a paymaster in the French administration, Monsieur Gaudry, instructing his daughter in geography. Boilly, as an intimate of the family, was said to have been present at this event many times. The little dog, whose face and paws are mimicked by the ornamentation of the chair, has been identified as “Brusquet,” much admired in the family because his constant barking had once succeeded in scaring away a band of thieves who had broken into the finance ministry. Historical geography was promoted as a field of study for both boys and girls in Napoleonic France, the maps of whose territories were subject to frequent revision with each new conquest. Here the sphinx and pyramid in the cartouche of the map no doubt refer to Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition of 1798–1801; the globe shows Europe and Africa. The fine detail of The Geography Lesson is indebted to Dutch genre paintings of the seventeenth century, many incorporating maps and books into middle-class homes. Boilly himself had a notable collection of works by Dutch masters such as Gerard Terborch and Gabriel Metsu.
Gaudry, Paris. Acquired by Julien Bessonneau [1842-1916], Angers; (Vente Bessonneau, Galerie Charpentier, 15 June 1954, no. 63). (Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, Ltd., London); purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1990.