Through the Fish Bowl: A Girl at a Window

The fish bowl within a fish bowl feel; the drapery flowing out the girl’s window, mirroring the sinuous cloth depicted in the stonework below the ledge; the bird in a cage canopied with greenery–what mysteries are embodied in this grisaille by Louis-Leopold Boilly?


The ribald scene forbidden to the viewer is exposed to the young girl and a companionable boy. They spy through their binoculars activities curiouser to the boy than the girl, but does their observation signify a loss of innocence? A commonplace distraction to relieve their boredom?

I find a striking sense of innocence and depravity in the work. The engraving beneath the ledge (where the girl rests in pale splendor) is an indication of passions but not ecstasies: A young maiden, swooning and looking scarcely conscious in the arms of a brutish man, their party of many joined by an opportunist (yet another?) The girl looks cleverly acquainted with the situation.

What do you see, readers? Have any thoughts on what root vegetable hangs above the fish bowl? Or what’s in the stoppered bottle? Tell me all about it!

6 thoughts on “Through the Fish Bowl: A Girl at a Window

  1. Just my take on it. Susan. Her shawl carries the eye down and points to the carving hinting at the passion which lies ahead for her. On the verge of womanhood, she appears innocent yet eager or at least curious to experience life. The boy seems younger. He’s in the shadows and put at a distance by the telescope. He can merely look, whereas she will soon experience life.

      1. Yes, it kinda does 😀 I’d be delighted if Buddha’s Hand showed up in an 18th century print so I did a little bit of research. Its origins and history are rather vague. I don’t think it was cultivated in the west until the 19th century (at least that’s when it appeared in California). Very good eye though. The more I look at it the more I see the citron!

  2. I’ve just seen this at the National Gallery in London. It was unlike anything else in the room. I was spellbound. There’s a cartoon-like, almost manga-like quality to her face, but her gaze…..she knows something. The light is wonderful. It’s my birthday this week and I’ve ordered a framed print – will be looking at this every day.

    1. Oh, I’d love to see it in person. Lucky you! I agree, there’s something magical about her. She’ll make a lovely companion to a house.

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