Boulle was an inveterate collector. In his Abecedario Mariette writes of him: ‘No sale of drawings or prints look place which he did not attend, at which he did not make frequent purchases without having the means to pay; he was almost always forced to borrow at high rates of interest; another sale would take place, again he had to resort to expedients.’ A large part of his extensive collections disappeared in the fire which destroyed his workshop during the night of 30
August 1720. The damage, estimated by Boulle at 212,220 livres, included, so he said, innumerable series of prints as well as a precious Rubens manuscript, a series of two hundred and seventy drawings by Stefano della Bella, a folio of one hundred Van Dyck portraits, two portfolios of drawings by the Carracci. two volumes of drawings of Philippe de Cham – paigne. two thousand studies of Corneille and Masse, a folio of forty-eight drawings by Raphael representing Ovid’s Metanurrphoses, a manuscript on the art of warfare illustrated with drawings by Callot and nearly one hundred and forty portfolios of drawings by French Masters (Brebiette. Berain. Puget. Leclerc, Francois Mansart and Jules Hardouin-Mansart. Laf – age. Boitard, Lebrun, Verdier, Bourdon. Melan. Perrier. and so on). Boulle also collected medals: he owned six thousand as well as medals cast from the antique Greek medals in the Fouquet Collection. The fire did appalling damage.’ writes Mariette; 4vhat was saved was as nothing compared to what was destroyed even though what was rescued was still extensive.’ One appreciates this comment by Mariette when studying the probate inventory of 1732 published by M. Samoyault: Boulle still owned more than two hundred and fifty volumes or portfolios of prints and one hundred and forty-six volumes or portfolios of drawings. among which were entire series by Poussin, Van der Meulen, Le Sueur, Lebrun and Mignard.
In giving free rein to his passion for collecting, Boulle spent his entire life in financial difficulties. The first mention of his problems was his obligation in 1681 to reimburse Anne dc Prelasque the sum of 2.(XX) livres which he had borrowed from her ‘for the settling of urgent affairs’. The various lawsuits and proceedings against him show that his debts continued to increase, that he paid his assistants and suppliers irregularly and that he lived from hand to mouth. In 1684 he was sued by the innkeeper Francois Breguet for a bill for drink for his workforce. The following year it was the turn of fifteen of his workers who sued him for back pay. In June 1685 he was even imprisoned in the Chatelet for a day over a debt of more than 1.5(X) livres owed to Charles Leclerc. ‘mar – chand maitrebatteurd’or’. In 1697 Pierre Crozat instigated proceedings against him for the non-delivery of four pedestals, two armoires and a base for which he had paid in advance. By 1701 his situation was so desperate that he had to seek the protection of the King against his creditors who were planning to have him arrested at the Louvre. Despite various settlements, these debts were still not paid off in 1704. In 1715 they had risen to 36.000 livres which were still partly owing in 1732.