OIL PAINTING: Phryne, 1850
Phryne, the picture Boulanger sent back to Paris from Italy for the Salon exhibition, had little architectural or archaeological content. Instead it was a sizzlingly sensual portrayal of the Greek temptress. Reclining on a luxurious bed, her mirror fallen after a moment of narcissistic contemplation, she looks challengingly out at the picture viewer, fondling her necklace seductively. Her red hair denotes passion and her professional calling. The short foreground and closed off background make the figure fill the picture space. Boulanger has painted the flesh to look smooth and lifelike, and softened and rounded the form of the limbs and torso. The picture's reception at the Salon was distinctly cool. Such an overtly sexual composition would require its display in a private cabinet, yet Boulanger's large scale would have demanded a more public Setting. Such a work would have been considered beyond the pale in Britain. Nevertheless, the mirror narcissism, red hair, fleshly figure and opulent trappings are all attributes of Rossetti's later female pictures, although formally very different and usually not nudes. Rossetti was in Paris in 1848 with Holman Hunt, and it is tempting to speculate whether on this trip or subsequent ones he encountered Boulanger's work.