In 1794, during the days of Terror, Jean-Baptiste Wicar denounced to the Committee for Public Health his fellow painter, Louis-Leopold Boilly. Boilly risked a meeting with guillotine for creating some works of art whose subject matter did not reflect the spirit of the Revolution. Fortunately for Boilly he had also painted a portrait of Marat, and with the picture of that revolutionary martyr, he was able to clear his name in the eyes of the Commitee. So what was it that provoked the wrath of Jean-Baptiste Wicar? Actually, there was quite a bit, but today I would like to look at The Lock, and as the name of this gravure suggests, it is a pictorial reference to the work of Fragonard under the same title, already discussed.
It is true that if we ignore the allusions to Fragonard, the picture is still interesting, but once we see the allusions, we appreciate the composition even more, for just like in Fragonard, it is built around the diagonal line crossing the door, only there are two doors, and consequently two diagonal lines; this again should bring a smile on my reader’s face; first of all, unlike Fragonard, Boilly places the lock within the woman’s reach, that is at the spot where it belongs; then the fact that there are two doors, and each makes a diagonal line of its own, and each human body is amusing, each serving as a caricature for the two bodies welded in that embrace by Fragonard; and the fact that the two doors, framing the alcove, each start a diagonal line with its own human body; and these two bodies, while leaning each on its door, divide the pictorial space into three triangles: from the fingers of the right hand to the toes of the left foot, and then, at the intersection of the diagonal lines, that is at the point where the three triangles meet, right there, at the epicenter of the composition, there is nothing, no apple, no fruit of temptation, no allegory of marriage, no biblical reference, no guilt, zilch, nada…. What?! Yes, that is exactly Boilly’s message — pure sex and nothing else. And this, I agree with Jean-Baptiste Wicar, merits guillotine!