Prince Nicolas Youssoupoff (1751-1831), one of the richest men of his age, was the greatest art collector and patron in Russia from the end of the 18th century through the early decades of the 19th century. He arrived in Paris in 1772 and rapidly began to assemble an important collection of contemporary French paintings and sculptures, many of which he purchased directly from the artists. After his return to Russia in 1778, Youssoupoff was appointed Ambassador to Turin, but continued to collect avidly, both for himself and for the Hermitage. He later returned to Paris for two years, during which time he made the acquaintance of Jean-Baptiste Greuze and commissioned from the artist several of his most distinguished paintings. Youssoupoff's collection included works by most of the great French painters of the day: in addition to Greuze, he acquired important canvasses by Fragonard, Vigée Le Brun, and Hubert Robert, and with the advent of neoclassicism as the dominant fashion, he commissioned major works from Jacques-Louis David and members of his circle, including Guerin, Gros and Gerard.
We know of seven paintings by Boilly that were part of the Youssoupoff collection; most of them are distributed between the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. No doubt Youssoupoff had acquired them directly from Boilly himself between 1789 and 1800, with the single exception of L'Evanouissement, which he is known to have purchased at the Salon des Beaux-Arts in 1791.
The present painting was part of this group and can be dated to around 1789. As was his standard practice, Boilly has re-employed a pose from an earlier composition, in this case the little boy holding the oval portrait, who first appeared as a messanger in La Viste Recue in the Musée Sandelin, Saint-Omer (see S.L. Siegfried, The Art of Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1995, p. 3, fig. 5).
The present painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Boilly's paintings being prepared by Etienne Breton and Pascal Zuber.