At 31 years of age, Boilly has not yet perfected the “finish” that characterizes his later works. He displays his native brilliance as he captures the dark ambience and tensions in the Café de la Regence in these French national treasures. Boilly’s signature appears faintly at the bottom left center.
Rook and Start (first move) are handicaps given among chess players to equalize play. Traditionally, the light colored pieces are used by the player with the first move. All other things being equal, this assures a win. Giving up a rook AND a start marks a gift from an exceptional player.
It is believed that the player on the left is Philidor (1726-1795), who reigned as the world’s greatest chess player for 40 years until his death. He would need to offer at least a rook and start to almost all opponents except Legall. An excellent description of this scene is contained in a chess article published by George Walker in Fraser’s Magazine, 1840. It is almost as if Walker was taking his description from this very painting. The far right figure, holding an umbrella under his arm is 83 year old Legall (1702-1792), in his characteristic green coat. He is still the second best chess player in the world. Legall is known for his wit as well as his chess skills. Imagine he is getting ready to drop a droll witticism as the opponent lays down his king in surrender, or offering him sage advice to encourage his return the following night. Philidor and Legall are well characterized in Denis Diderot’s book Rameau’s Nephew, published in 1805.
The game shown above would have been no later than Legall’s death. Philidor left for London the same year, where he died in 1795. As an emigre, Philidor was under pain of death by guillotine if he ever returned to France. Boilly, arriving in Paris in 1785, may well have finished this painting somewhat earlier but probably no later than 1792 when Philidor became a political liability as a picture subject. Boilly himself was condemned in 1794 for his risqué paintings but escaped by clever use of his painting skills.
Tour d’echecs et de commencer
(Rook and Start)
If you recognize the engraving to the left please let me know your source. I am looking to confirm its existence in the article in Fraser's Magazine. I have an extract of the text of the article but no engravings. I believe that this engraving was made from the oil painting by Boilly in about 1839.
Please help me establish the existence of this painting in the cafe in 1839.
I know that the article was reproduced by Mark Weeks at the following site: mark_weeks.tripod.com/chw01h01/gwf-2201.htmbut the engraving appears to have been inserted into the text rather than be a copy of the original magazine.