The Electric Spark (Primary Title)

Louis-Léopold Boilly, French, 1761 - 1845 (Artist)

ca. 1791
oil on canvas
Unframed: 21 3/4 × 18 1/8 in. (55.25 × 46.04 cm)
Framed: 28 1/4 × 24 1/4 in. (71.76 × 61.6 cm)

Boilly’s smoothly painted genre scenes captured the spirit of middle-class Parisian life, often with witty, sensual undercurrents. In this painting, a young couple visits an alchemist, at the right, who sits with his assistant amid the tools of his ancient profession. Surprisingly, he is turning the wheel of a recent invention, an electrostatic generator, which is attached to the statue of Cupid drawing his bow. When the young woman touches the tip of the arrow, she will receive an electric shock. Electrical demonstrations were highly popular entertainments in the Age of Enlightenment, as natural philosophers looked for rational explanations of the natural world.

The couple depicted here resembles the man and woman in The Unburdened Musician, another of Boilly’s paintings on display in this gallery, and the women even wear the same dress. This obvious similarity suggests that Boilly conceived the two works as episodes within a united narrative, thereby situating this painting from VMFA’s permanent collection within the same series as the one from the Saunders Collection.

Signed, "L BOILLY" on base of cupid's pedestal.
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund
2017: "America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting", National Gallery of Art, May 21 - August 20, 2017

2011-2012: Louis-Leopold Boilly (1761-1845), Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, November 4, 2011 - February 6, 2012

2003-2004: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, October 12, 2003 - January 11, 2004

2003: French Genre Painting in the Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, June 6 - September 7, 2003

2002: A Golden Legacy: Fifty Years of the Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, April 2 - August 18, 2002

1997-1998: Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in 18th Century France, Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, October 4, 1997 - January 4, 1998; Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, February 14 - May 8, 1998; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, May 26 - August 18, 1998

1994: Falling in Love Again, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, July 1 - September 25, 1994

1993: Perspectives on Romanticism, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, April 29 - July 18, 1993

1976: Art in the Age of Jefferson, Bayly Art Museum at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, March - April 1976

1930: Paris, 1930, no. 24

1791: Exposition de la jeunesse, 1791

See Review of Provenance Information by Karen Daly, dated June, 2011, on file.

Some object records are not complete and do not reflect VMFA's full and current knowledge. VMFA makes routine updates as records are reviewed and enhanced.