Pencil & watercolour on light grey paper
14.7 x 22.5 cm



William Drummond, Christie's, London, 03.07.2018, Lot 145 (part of);

With Martyn Gregory, London



The present work can be compared to a further view of the Palace of Versailles by Boys, now in the Yale Centre for British Art, Mass. (B1975.4.74). 



Boys was born in Pentonville, then a northern suburb of London, in 1803. Nothing is known about his early life. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to the engraver George Cooke, one of a family of successful engravers. The earliest surviving work by Boys is a drawing from 1819. He made 194 drawings engraved by Cooke for the twenty-volume “Botanical Cabinet” (1817-1833) by the botanist Conrad Loddiges, starting during his apprenticeship and continuing after the apprenticeship ended in 1823.


Sources differ as to the year Boys went to Paris to work as an engraver, the most important journey of his career. One 19th century scholar wrote that Boys went to Paris in 1825. However, Boys published an etching in Paris in 1823 and made a wood engraving of a Parisian view dated 1824, leading later scholars to think he arrived in 1823. He met the his fellow Englishman Richard Parkes Bonington in Paris, who introduced Boys to his circle of artists and patrons, including Eugène Delacroix. Although he continued to work as an engraver, exhibiting reproductive engravings at the Paris Salon in 1827-28, his friend Bonington introduced Boys to watercolour.


Although Bonington's influence on Boys was inevitable (and he was by no means unique in this regard), he went on to establish his own individual style. Soon after Bonington’s death in 1828, Boys completed a soft-ground etching of a view of Bologna which had not been completed by Bonington; Boys had it published in London later that year. In 1833 Boys began creating lithographs for the Languedoc and Picardie volumes of Baron Isidore Justin Taylor’s series Voyages pittoresques et romantiques dans l’ancienne France (1820-1875), a project Boys worked on until 1845. He provided etchings and lithographs for other travel books as well.


Boys continued painting watercolour views of Paris and its environs and other cities during the 1830s and exhibited his watercolours at the Paris Salons of 1833-1835. He apparently travelled to Brussels, Austria, Bohemia, Italy and Germany, probably during the 1830s, based on surviving drawings of scenes in those countries.


Boys returned in England in 1837, probably to create lithographs based on drawings made during their travels by David Roberts, Clarkson Stanfield, and Vivian George, for books published for those artists. Probably inspired by the books he had illustrated and Thomas Girtin’s well-known Picturesque Views of Paris and its Environs (1803), Boys created a superb set of twenty-six color lithographs, Picturesque Architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwerp, and Rouen, printed by the London printer Charles Hullmandel and published by Boys’s cousin Thomas Boys in 1839. These works were based on watercolors and drawings Boys had made previously and distinguish him as the first artist to use registered stones for printing lithographs in complicated colour arrangements, an original, innovative and hugely important development in lithography. Nothing comparable was produced in colour printing until the revival of lithography in France at the end of the 19th century by such artists as Toulouse-Lautrec.


These works received rave reviews in London and Paris and Boys' cousin arranged for a set to be given to the French King Louis Philippe, who in return gave him a ring engraved with the initials “L.P.” and decorated with the crown of France in diamonds, which was then given to the artist (and as of 1974 was owned by one of Boys’s descendants). Boys next created a set of ten views of York, lithographs in black with beige tint from a second lithographic stone, published in 1841. Then he created his second celebrated set of twenty-six views, Original Views of London As It Is, printed by Hullmandel with a black and a tint stone, and published in 1842 by his cousin Thomas Boys. When the artist presented a set of these prints to King Louis Philippe, he received to a watch.


Boys continued to paint and exhibit landscapes in watercolours. He was made an associate member of the New Society of Painters in Water-colours in 1840 and was elected a full member the following year. However, his career declined precipitously, and he was forced to take hack-work engraving commissions, such as illustrations for art history books by John Ruskin (1819-1900). In search of work, he advertised in a builders’ magazine in 1851 that he was available to do architectural renderings. Boys died in poverty in 1874; however, his reputation was revived in the 20th century by such collectors as Paul Mellon, who appreciated the importance of Boys' Paris period and his evident skill.