Boulanger's Répétition du 'Joueur de flûte' et de la 'Femme de Diomède' chez le prince Napoléon, Musée d’Orsay, is one of those vast canvases in vogue in the middle years of the century before last, a loose baggy monster of the kind that is still found lurking in most art museums, or rather in their archives. There used to be a Hans Makart on display in Hamburg that was truly colossal. It depicted the entry of an emperor into a medieval town – or something like that.
In the Burlington, in 1962, we find a young Anita Brookner commenting thus:
There was, for me, a great reward in seeing precisely the kind of picture against which, we are always told, Manet reacted, although we rarely have an idea of what it looked like. This was La Répétition du 'Joueur de Flûte' dans la maison romaine du prince Napoleon, dated 1861, by Gustave Boulanger, the French Alma-Tadema and, within its limits, not half bad. I particularly liked the attention meted out to the tiger-skin rug on the marble floor, the reproduction of the pink, blue, and yellow Percier and Fontaine décor, and the painstaking red key-pattern painted dizzily around the cornice. It is about time we stopped being frightened of the so-called bad pictures of the nineteenth century (they are, after all, no worse than the so-called good ones of today) and allowed ourselves to expend a little honest affection on them.