BOILLY, Louis Léopold
(b. 1761, La Bassé, d. 1845, Paris)

Departure of the Conscripts in 1807

Oil on canvas, 85 x 138 cm
Musée Carnavalet, Paris

In the same Salon of 1808 hung two other pictures that seemed a universe away from Gros's epic conception but also alluded to the German campaign and its casualties. Louis-Leopold Boilly was known mainly as a painter of small, intimate narratives, humorous, sentimental and largely apolitical. As a young man he had painted a picture of a triumphant Marat but panicked that it would embroil him too far in revolutionary affairs; he had since steered clear of Napoleonic propaganda. When he returned to the realm of current affairs for his subjects, he did so from the perspective of ordinary people rather than Napoleon himself. The imperial armies had long been dependent on conscription, and as they were stretched further, there were many abuses, especially of the age limits. These, together with the recent carnage in Prussia, would have been much in the minds of those who stood before Boilly's Departure of the Conscripts in 1807. Most of the raggle-taggle procession who pass beneath the Porte St Denis in Paris have a jaunty air, but it strikes a false note; the men are undisciplined and shabby, and are given a bitterly ironic echo in the single figure on the extreme right of a blind man led by his dog.

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