The Downpour (L’Averse)

Artist(s) : BOILLY Louis Léopold
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The Downpour (L’Averse)

A remarkable observer of everyday life, portrait painter and genre scene specialist (where anecdote is all), Boilly was a popular artist whose work is valued most of all for its documentary qualities. As an insatiably curious observer of his own time, he recorded for posterity the social customs and quirks of Parisians during the Consulate and Empire period. And although his view was often barbed it was never cruel. His small works – interiors, picturesque street scenes, and artistic and political pictures – met with great public success.
In The Downpour (L'Averse) (also entitled Pay to cross (Passez-Payez)), Boilly presents a common situation with which Parisians of the period were presented. The fact is, very few roads in the capital had pavement sidewalks, and even the smallest amount of rain could transform them into muddy streams which were very difficult for pedestrians to negotiate. With their cry of «Passez payez» (Pay to cross), the 'passeurs', for the most part men from Savoy, offered walkers the chance (for a small fee!) to use a board bridge to get over the central gutter. Such is the scene shown here.
The design is exceedingly precise and colours sparkling. The composition is articulated around a middle class family trying to get across the road on one of these boards. And out of this carefully arranged and beautifully dressed group (set against the backdrop of a large green umbrella), one figure stands out particularly, the young mother delicately lifting her dress with one hand and clasping her small dog with the other. She is elegantly painted wearing an up-to-date and fashionable ensemble, which includes the unavoidable embroidered shawl, the indispensabe item of the feminine wardrobe of the period. The typically Boilly-ian barb here is the inference as to the consequences of the Parisian mud upon this veritable symphony of white! On either side, there are two sub-scenes which complete the composition. To the left, the payment of the fee; and to the right, a man carrying a woman on his back, the cheaper solution to the Paris mud problem.
Karine Huguenaud (tr. P.H.)

May 2003

Date :
Technique :
oil on canvas
Dimensions :
H = 0.325 m, L = 0.405 m
Place held :
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo credit :
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