The Turkish Café ('Jardin Turc' or 'Café Turc'), which was located on the south side of the Boulevard du Temple (no. 29) in the Marais district in the east of central Paris, opened in 1780 as an ice cream parlor. After its operations where taken over by Bonvalet in 1811, it evolved into a proper restaurant, known for its fine wine cellar and exceptional cuisine. The historian Victor Fournel, writing of 'vieux Paris' in 1887, recounted that the Café Turc 'was the largest and most beautiful on the boulevard, the one where one was the best served. It was renowned for its excellent ice creams. There one could take one's reveries out for an airing through two charming gardens, discuss politics or news of the day seated on a bench with some nice old rentier from the Marais, play chess, dominoes, draughts on a café table, or else spin tops, play toad in the hole, or swing under the cool shadows.' (Quoted in Siegfried, 1995, p. 137)
The café's most distinctive features were its decorations à la turque, and its spacious gardens with exotic, Turkish-styled pavillions. Boilly's remarkable painting shows the exterior walls of the famous café only, with just a hint of its alluring gardens beyond. However, the artist does not fail to depict the café's easily recognized green-striped awnings, canopies, and tented kiosks surmounted with crescent finials. As Susan Siegfried noted (op.cit.), fantasy architecture of this sort found its origins in aristocratic garden follies, and the Café Turc served in some ways as a more democratic and public 'surrogate villa'. It was the oldest commercial operation of its kind in Paris, though other cafés with exotic decor and pleasure gardens soon followed its success, such as the Chinese Café.
In fact, the 'theatre of the street' outside the café, rather than the revelries within, is the real subject of this extraordinary picture. The Boulevard du Temple, were the Café Turc was located, was a wide, tree-lined road which from the middle of the 18th century was a fashionable route for promenading. The arrival of crowds in the late afternoon brought out vendors and street entertainers; theatres sprang up along the north side of the street in the 1760s, cafés and restaurants along the south side. As of 4:00 pm, the Café Turc daily became the backdrop to a bustle of strolling citoyens, acrobats, street sellers, fortune tellers, magicians, singers and traveling flea circuses. As Richard Beresford and Peter Raissis note in their exemplary essay on the present picture in The James Fairfax Collection catalogue (2003, p. 34), Boilly made his painting at the very moment of the café's greatest success, when the fláneur and contemporary memoirist Etienne Jouy observed (in a diary entry dated 24 August 1811), 'The Turkish Garden cannot accommodate the crowd that besieges it'.
A self-taught painter from Lille who started his career as a portraitist and painter of small-scale, erotic genre scenes, Boilly turned after the Revolution to the creation of large, formally complex, multi-figural scenes of contemporary public life which he submitted to the Salon exhibitions of the Louvre with the goal of winning popular and official recognition. 'Boilly's hopes of having his paintings catch the attention of visitors to the crowded exhibitions rested largely on his choice of subject', Siegfried observed. He selected unusual public spectacles, generally associated with urban leisure, such as the entertainments afforded the throngs in The Entrance to the Turkish Garden Café, a painting which he exhibited to great success at the Salons of 1812 and 1814.
The Entrance to the Turkish Garden Café is one of the most ambitious and technically accomplished paintings of Boilly's career, in which the artist effortlessly integrated more than sixty figures into a dazzlingly diverse portrait of contemporary Parisian society during Napoleon's imperial reign. A throng of people jam the entrance to the Jardin Turc, above which is installed the distinctive shop sign depicting a cross-legged turk smoking atop gilt lettering that spells out the establishment's name. The crowd spills out onto the pavement, occupying tables and chairs set up on the boulevard, and watches a series of street performers who entertain the passers-by. Boilly's human comedy is cast from all ranks of society with all ages of participants, framed by a wealthy, elegantly dressed young couple standing on the far left of the composition and an elderly couple of rentiers seated beneath a shade tree on the far right. In between, poor children entertain the crowd -- a Savoyard boy carries a dancing marmot; a Catalan youth plays a hurdy-gurdy -- and well-dressed, haute bourgeois children amuse themselves with games. A pretty young bonne seated near the center of the scene embraces her charges as they watch, captivated, an impromptu marionette performance. Boilly would have known the shifting scene in front of the café well, as he lived at 12 Rue Mesley, less than a 10 minute walk from the Café Turc, and he would have had almost unlimited opportunities to observe the crowds as they shuffled past the site. Indeed, the artist includes his self-portrait in his painting: he is the man in round spectacles and a top hat on the right-hand edge of the canvas, somewhat removed from the center of the action, but unblinking in the intensity of his gaze.
In addition to the highly polished porcelain finish that Boilly brings to the painting, and for which he is so admired -- a well-learned lesson derived from close study of the 'little Dutch masters' of the 17th century such as ter Borch and Metsu -- it is the careful and sympathetic observation of the faces, gestures and postures of his large cast of characters that makes The Entrance to the Turkish Garden Café so compelling and memorable. His gift for intense observation and lifelike rendering was honed over a fifty-year career as a portraitist of great distinction. Boilly was said to have executed no fewer than 4,500 portraits, completing his small, bust-length canvases, often meticulously described, in less than two hours. In addition to his self-portrait, Boilly has included other portraits in the present composition, including the woman who sits near him and returns our glance with a gaze as penetrating as Boilly's own; and while they remain unidentified, the elderly couple are obviously based on real sitters, as is the brooding man in the tricorne. The seated man directly above the puppets derives from Boilly's portrait sketch of the artist Jean Duplessi-Bertaux that he made 14 years earlier in preparation for his famous group portrait, A Reunion of Artists in Isabey's Studio (1798; Paris, Musée du Louvre).
As every author has noted, most recently Siegfried, Beresford and Raissis, Boilly's elaborate composition necessitated careful planning and extensive preparatory work. According to Marmottan, the artist worked on the painting for nearly two years -- 1810 to 1812 -- and a number of studies for it survive, many of them oil sketches from a stock of studies in his workshop that he had previously used for other paintings. Besides the return of Duplessi-Bertaux from an earlier picture, the children watching the hurdy-gurdy-playing puppeteer can also be found in a working-class tavern scene (Scéne de cabaret; Musée du Louvre, Paris) and a well-to-do domestic interior (La représentation de marionnettes; Kugel Collection, Paris); and the profile of the elegant woman on the left was first studied in an oil sketch of the 1790s (Andrew Ciechaniwiecki Collection, Los Angeles County Museum of Art), then appeared in Boilly's painting Fête de Famille (1803; Boulogne-sur-Mer, Musée du Château), before making a final appearance in The Entrance to the Turkish Garden Café in 1812. A beautiful oil sketch for the standing man and the Savoyard boy (Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) was made specifically with the present painting in view, as was a preparatory drawing for a part of the façade of the Café (London, private collection). An unpublished oil sketch of two children, one of them the standing boy who watches the marionnette, can be associated with the genesis of the painting. (Our thanks to Pascal Zuber for bringing the last-mentioned two works to our attention.) Harrisse also records a lost ricordo by Boilly of the whole composition in watercolor, something the artist did to memorialize many of his major Salon compositions.
Boilly proves himself the first great painter of modern life, and his subject is the thrilling swirl of public life in the cosmopolitan center of the city of Paris, with all its excitements and terrors, its unplanned opportunities for political, social and sexual engagement, the piquant pleasures of personal display. That is why Boilly's painting focuses on the spectacle taking place outside the walls of the city's most celebrated café, not the events happening inside. As Philippe Bordes eloquently observed, 'If there is a moral to Boilly's depiction, it is that the beauties of modern life were to be found in the casual spectacle of the street and no longer in the artificial -- Turkish -- world of fantasy on the other side of the wall'.
Our gratitude to Etienne Bréton and Pascal Zuber for their assistance in the preparation of this entry. The present lot will be included in their forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Boilly's paintings.
The entrance to the Turkish Garden Café
Oil on canvas
THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Signed and dated 'L. Boilly 1812' (lower right)
Julien Leopold Boilly
Julien Leopold Boilly , 18th Century, Paintings, oil, France, Old Master, figures
Paris, Salon, 1812, no. 108.
Paris, Salon, 1814, no. 112.
Paris, L'École des Beaux Arts, Exposition de tableaux de maîtres anciens au profit des inondés du Midi, 1887, no. 6.
Paris, Exposition universelle, Exposition rétrospective de la Ville de Paris, 1900, no. 9 bis.
London, Matthiesen Fine Art, Eighty years of French painting: from Louis XIV to the Second Republic, Autumn 1991, no. 11; also New York, Stair Sainty Matthiesen.
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, The James Fairfax collection of Old Masters, 1992 (unnumbered).
Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, The Art of Louis-Léopold Boilly: Modern Life in Napoleonic France, 5 November 1995-14 January 1996; also Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 4 February 1996-28 April 1996 (catalogue by Dr. Susan L. Siegfried).
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, The James Fairfax Collection of Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and Prints, 17 April-20 July 2003, no. 6 (catalogue by R. Beresford and P. Raissis).
Old Master & British Paintings
28 7/8 x 35 7/8 in. (73.3 x 91.1 cm.)
La Vérité au Salon de 1812, ou critique impartiale des tableaux et sculptures; par une société d'artistes, Paris, 1812, p. 6, no. 108.
C.-P. Landon, Annales du Musée et de l'Ecole Moderne des Beaux-Arts, Salon de 1812, Paris, 1812, II, p. 101.
Revue des tableaux par M.*** (Exposition de novembre 1812), Paris, 1812, p. 4, no. 108.
A.L. Castellan, 'Beaux-Arts, Salon de 1812', Le Moniteur Universel, 10 March 1813, pp. 256-258.
C.-P. Landon, Annales du Musée et de l'Ecole Moderne des Beaux-Arts, Salon de 1814, Paris, 1814, p. 99.
A. Dinaux, 'Boilly', Archives Historiques et Littéraires du Nord de la France et du Midi, de la Belgique, VI, Valenciennes, 1847, pp. 194-209.
A. Dinaux, 'Peintres français: Louis Boilly', L'Artiste, séries 5, V, 1 October 1850, pp. 133-135; 15 October 1850, pp. 148-150.
E. Bellier de la Chavignerie, Dictionnaire général des artists de l'ecole Française, Paris, 1892, I, p. 109.
H. Harrisse, L.-L. Boilly, peintre, dessinateur, et lithographe: sa vie et son oeuvre, 1761-1845, Paris, 1898, pp. 26, 82, 168, no. 37.
C. Saunier, 'La Collection Lütz', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, period 3, year 44, XXVII, September 1902, pp. 425-428.
L. Roger-Miles, in La collection Georges Lütz, sale catalogue, Paris, 1902, pp. 38-39.
H. Mireur, Dictionnaire des Ventes d'Art, Paris, 1911, I, p. 275.
P. Marmottan, Le peintre Louis Boilly (1761-1845), Paris, 1913, pp. 129-133, 229, 231.
A. Mabille de Poncheville, Boilly, Paris, 1931, pp. 123-124, 126, illus. opp. p. 124.
M.N. Benisovitch, 'Une autobiographie du peintre Louis Boilly', in Essays in honor of hans Tietze, New York, 1958, pp. 365-372, note 11.
Paintings by old masters, exhibition catalogue, Colnaghi's, London, 1974, n.p., under no. 41.
J.S. Hallam, 'The two manners of Louis-Léopold Boilly and French genre painting in transition', The Art Bulletin, LXIII, no. 4, December 1981, pp. 618-632, fig. 16.
M. Delafond, in the exhibition catalogue, Louis Boilly, 1761-1845, Musée Marmottan, Paris, 1984, p. 51, under no. 26, pp. 108-109.
Y. Brayer, 'Louis Boilly et son temps', L'Oeil, no. 346, May 1984, pp. 22-27.
A. Scottez, Boilly, 1761-1845, un grand peintre français de la révolution á la restauration, exhibition catalogue, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille, 1988-89, pp. 118, 124.
S.L. Siegfried, 'Spectacle and display in Boilly's L'Entrée du Jardin Turc' in Louis-Léopold Boilly's L'Entrée au jardin turc, Matthiesen, London, and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York, 1991, pp. 5, figs 2-4.
C. Fisher, 'James Fairfax: a remarkable collector of old masters', Apollo, CXXXVIII, no. 388, June 1994, pp. 3-8.
Revue du Louvre, 1994, no. 4, p. 120.
P. Bordes, review of Siegfried, 1995, The Burlington Magazine, CXXXVIII, no. 1115, February 1996, pp. 152-155.
B.S. Wright, review of Siegfried, 1995, Eighteenth Century Studies, XXX, no. 1, fall 1996, pp. 97-98.
B. Jobert, review of Siegfried, 1995, Revue de l'Art, no. 112, 1996, p. 78.
R. Wrigley, 'For the sake of appearances' (review of Siegfried, 1995), Art History, XX, no. 2, June 1997, pp. 313-318.
Boilly sale; Bonnefons de Lavialle, Paris, 13-14 April 1829, lot 2 (781 FF to Lhérie).
(Possibly) Comtesse A. de Vaux.
Anonymous sale; Duchesne/Haro, Paris, 15 March 1894, lot 11 (15,500 FF) to
Georges Lütz (1835-1901); his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, 26-27 May 1902, lot 3 (36,310 FF to Seligmann).
Comte and Comtesse A. de Gontaut-Biron, Paris, by 1931 and until 1933. Private collection, Geneva, by 1939.
with Matthiesen, London, 1991, where purchased by the present owner in 1992.