Born into Lyon's lesser nobility, this son of a doctor was intended for a career not as an artist but as a magistrate. However, this did not prevent him from cultivating his gift for drawing with local teachers before training as a engraver in Paris in 1762–1764. It was thanks to Johan Georg Wille, who advised him and helped him make useful contacts, that he met his first patron, the young Duc de La Rochefoucault. Like every aristocrat taking the initiatory Grand Tour, the duke had need of an artist to chat with about the beauties of Italy, a role de Boissieu played when he accompanied him there in 1765–1766. Until then he had been following the Flemish and Dutch landscape models, but now he discovered the sheer power of the Italian light, while his study of the old masters helped him develop a sure hand. Back in Lyon he built up a network solid enough for his reputation as a draughtsman and engraver to spread abroad, to England, Russia and, most of all, the Germanic countries. Even so, apart from the odd trip to Paris, he spent all his time in Lyon, where he produced over 130 etchings, mainly landscape compositions and genre scenes. His originality in all fields – he painted in oils as well – had its roots in an acute observation of reality combined with the powerful influence of the seventeenth-century Dutch masters he so fervently collected.
A lover of his native region, de Boissieu made a point throughout his oeuvre of celebrating its pastoral picturesqueness. In his many drawings with black ink wash he placed particular emphasis on vernacular architecture, especially in the form of ruins. This is the case of the abandoned hovel in our drawing, caught in daylight chiaroscuro with the lively touch that is the distinctive stamp of the de Boissieu drawing style. His true genius, though, emerges in the figures that animate the landscape: the old lady, the little girl and the dog rising out of a grassy bank and framed by the gateway, together with a flock of birds, give the buildings their scale.
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