A spectacle of spectacles

One print in our collection illustrates no fewer than five visual aids used in the nineteenth century. It's really worth a more detailed look.

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Les Lunettes, satirical print by L. L. Boilly circa 1823
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Les Lunettes by the French artist Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845) is a hand-coloured lithograph from circa 1823. It shows five caricatures of men and women using different types of optical aid including a quizzing glass, a pair of scissor spectacles with a handle, a pair of wig spectacles with jointed sides, a pair of nose spectacles and a spyglass.

Boilly came from that part of France close to what is now the Belgian border. He worked in Douai and Arras before moving to Paris in the 1780s. His work is closely observed and his paintings were small, not unlike the Dutch 17th century paintings of Gerrit Dou whom he is known to have admired. Like that artist it would seem that Boilly had more than a passing interest in matters optical. He tried his hand at trompe l'oeil painting and another of his works, in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, shows a woman and child using an optical viewer set up on the table in a prosperous house.

This print formed part of a series, many produced in conjunction with the print maker de Delpech, which included La Sortie d'une Maison de Jeu in which four men are shown leaving a gambling den (one wearing wig spectacles), The Five Senses, which features a man with a quizzing glass and a hand-held mirror to represent sight, Les Amateurs de tableaux which lampoons the art-lovers inspecting pictures and using a pair of nose spectacles, a quizzing glass and a pair of scissor spectacles with handle to do so, and its companion piece Les Antiquaires in which diverse characters are shown using various kinds of visual aid to study shards of pottery, two of them using a quizzing glass and one a pair of nose spectacles. Such pictures proved very popular with the French public and they were also reproduced on papier-maché snuff boxes or as prints with English titles to serve the foreign market.

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