Description: A young lady reaching for a guitar at a stone casement and a boy playing the flute beyond
signed and dated 'Drolling f. an. 5.' (lower right)
oil on canvas, unlined
46 x 38 in. (117 x 96.5 cm.)
Artist or Maker: Martin Drolling (Oberbergheim 1752-1817 Paris)
Exhibited: Paris, Salon, 1798, no. 127, as 'un jeune homme et une jeune femme, aperçus par une fenêtre, se disposent à faire de la musique'.
Notes: This ambitious canvas, seemingly unrecorded in recent literature is an important new addition to the oeuvre of Martin Drolling, a contemporary of Louis Leopold Boilly and author of the remarkable Interior of a kitchen (Louvre, Paris). Its impressive scale and refinement of finish allow one to identify it with the picture of the same subject listed among Drolling's four Salon entries for 1798. It is dated 'an 5', as 1797 was termed during the revolutionary years, which would be consistent with a picture exhibited at the Salon in 1798 given that there was no Salon the year this picture was actually painted.
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Born near Colmar on the Prussian border of France, Drolling moved to Paris in 1780 and almost immediately started exhibiting, first at the Salon de la Correspondance in 1781 and during the revolutionary years, when the academic restrictions were lifted, at the Salon du Louvre, beginning in 1793. Drolling excelled at portraiture as well as genre painting and was drawn to the then popular 'Dutch' style whose characteristics included a love of trompe-l'oeil effects and a taste for sentimental genre subject matter. He formed part of a circle of like-minded artists of whom Boilly is now the best known who were immortalized in Boilly's great La réunion d'artistes dans l'atelier d'Isabey painted the year after this canvas, in 1798. Drolling featured in that painting and such was Boilly's admiration for Drolling's work that he made copies after two later compositions.
There was during the reign of Louis XVI a fascination for Dutch seventeenth-century masters which was widely shared by the collecting class, among them Randon de Boisset, the baron de Besenval and comte de Merle. This taste for the northern masters remained in vogue after the Fall of the Bastille, fuelled in part by the efforts of the dealer, painter and husband of Vigée, Jean-Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, who dealt in northern paintings and popularized them through his publication of the highly influential volumes of engravings after northern paintings in private collections, La Galerie des Peintres Flamands, Hollandais et Allemands, in 1792. Singled out for particular praise were the 'finschilderei' such as Gerrit Dou of whom he wrote, 'in his genre he must be seen as the most perfect and the most accomplished painter whom Holland has produced' and Van Mieris, 'his works are of such perfection, that one thinks one is looking at nature through a window'; Metsu also was regarded as a great master, 'without neglecting the true and precious details of nature he made for himself a grand and easy manner'.
It was in this climate that Drolling produced, in the 1790s, a series of highly finished genre paintings that owe such an evident debt to compositions by Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris. Of them this example is by far the largest, perhaps indicating the artist's intention to make an impression at the Salon of 1798. This comparatively small group of highly wrought paintings painted includes Donnant La Liberté (which shows a young woman releasing a caged bird while a young boy holding a violin looks on) and Painting and Music: portrait of the artist's son (Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art). In all cases there is a play on the conceit of music in painting; we view the protagonists framed in a fictive window; a Turkey rug is thrown over the sill and it, as well as the other still life elements, are painted with particular attention to detail. All three are clearly intended as homages to his seventeenth-century Dutch predecessors whose genre scenes had been so highly prized.