The picture presents a boisterous group of men gathered in a billiard room. Taunay was famous for his small-scale genre scenes, and the panel is most likely a reduction of a larger painting on canvas (private collection, Paris) that dates about 1808 and was displayed in the Salon that year. Louis Léopold Boilly presented a picture of a similar subject, A Billiard Game. The Metropolitan’s work was once paired with another panel by Taunay of the same size, Le Concert.
The figures in the billiard room are large in comparison to the architectural surroundings, and their personalities are expressed through colorful gestures and garments. The clamorous activity surrounding the game lends a masculine air. The interior has the nonchalant ambience of a gentleman’s club room, with a brass chandelier suspended above the billiard table and hats and cloaks hanging on the walls. Grey light floods the interior space through three windows on the side wall, one of which is set behind the archway and columns at the back of the room. This Palladian motif is seen elsewhere in Taunay’s oeuvre. Above the doorway, there is a statue of the goddess of victory holding a coin purse, a reminder that billiards and other games encourage vanity and avarice when wagers are on the line.
[Katharine Baetjer 2017]
Alphonse Claude Charles Bernardin, comte de Perregaux, Paris (until d. 1841; his estate sale, Paris, December 8–9, 1841, no. 55, as "La Partie de billard," on wood, 16 x 22 cm, for Fr 261, with pendant, "Le Concert"); Monsieur L. de Saint-Vincent (until 1852; his estate sale, Hôtel des Ventes, Colin and Vallée, Paris, March 8–9, 1852, no. 85, as "Salle de billard. Joueurs et galerie," for Fr 229); Jules Burat (by 1860–1885; his estate sale, Chevallier and Féral, Paris, April 28–29, 1885, no. 172, as "Le Café des Arts," on wood, 16 x 22 cm, for Fr 4,400); Monsieur E. H . . . (until 1951; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 9, 1951, no. 56, for Fr 500,000 to Linsky); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1951–his d. 1980); The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York (1980–82)
Paris. 26, Boulevard des Italiens [Francis Petit]. "Tableaux et dessins de l'école française, principalement du XVIIIe siècle, tirés de collections d'amateurs," 1860, no. 254 (as "Le Café des Arts," lent by M. Burat).
Paris. Palais de la Présidence du Corps Législatif. "Ouvrages de peinture exposés au profit de la colonisation de l'Algérie par les Alsaciens-Lorrains," April 23–?, 1874, no. 478 (as "Le Café des Arts," lent by M. Burat).
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
W. Bürger [Théophile Thoré]. "Exposition de tableaux de l'école française ancienne tirés de collections d'amateurs." Gazette des beaux-arts 7 (September 15, 1860), pp. 356, 358, as "Le Café des Arts".
Théodore Lejeune. Guide théorique et pratique de l'amateur de tableaux. Vol. 1, Paris, 1864, p. 389, as "La partie de billard" by Taunay in the L. de Saint-Vincent sale and later in the Burat collection.
Explication des ouvrages de peinture exposés au profit de la colonisation de l'Algérie par les Alsaciens-Lorrains. Exh. cat.Paris, 1874, p. 83, no. 478, 17 x 24 cm; identify the man in the red cloak as David, the man preparing to play with his left hand as Girodet, and the man offering a ball as Gros.
Théodore Guédy. Nouveau dictionnaire des peintres anciens et contemporains. Paris, 1882, p. 116, lists Taunay's "La partie de billard" in the Perregaux sale as having sold for Fr 371.
H. Mireur. Dictionnaire des ventes d'art. Vol. 7, Paris, 1912, p. 135, lists "La partie de billard" in the Perregaux and Saint-Vincent sales and "Le café des arts" in the Burat sale.
Affonso d'Escragnolle Taunay. Nicolau Antonio Taunay: Documentos sobre a sua vida e sua obra. Rio de Janeiro, 1916, p. 86.
Katharine Baetjer inThe Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, p. 361 (appendix).
Katharine Baetjer in "The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Addenda to the Catalogue." Metropolitan Museum Journal 21 (1986), pp. 161–63, no. A.3., ill., identifies this picture in error with the one that Taunay exhibited in the Salon of 1808 and notes that another example of this subject by Louis Leopold Boilly was also exhibited (paintings of the subject are in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, and in the Chrysler Museum).
Claudine Lebrun Jouve. Nicolas-Antoine Taunay (1755–1830). Paris, 2003, pp. 74, 253–54, 266, no. P. 546, ill., identifies a larger picture in a private collection, Paris (52 x 70.6 cm, on canvas), as exhibited in the Salon of 1808, and calls ours the modello.