Marguerite Gerard: An 18th Century French Etcher and Painter
Updated: Apr 1
To present a study of an 18th-century French artist without reference to the French revolution would be as impossible as to ignore the mention of William Shakespeare while talking about English literature. The French revolution was a progressive approach to influence the polity and work on its betterment by uprooting the years-old Monarch and feudal systems. Through this period, women became aware of their rights and worked towards gaining an equal position in society. While this alone took numerous efforts by the population, I claim the opportunity to discuss the viewpoint of artistry, which presented Paris with a growing demand for printmaking. As a result, painters and printmakers worked simultaneously to create books with traditional forms of line engraving, portraiture and historical sketches of excellent quality serving the purpose of reasonably elegant illustrations. To serve the surging demand, engravers and artists of both genders participated, and in a matter of time, the number of women engaging in the art increased remarkably. When taken into consideration, the output of females consisted of no limitation; however, they were often employed on plates of secondary importance. A process that might have been regarded as unequal by many of the members, and this may have seeded the motivation for them to work as a painter simultaneously. One such artist we are here for was Marguerite Gerard, a female master who studied painting and etching under her brother-in-law Jean-Honore Fragonard. When we look into her early career, she carved only six prints with sufficient talent as an artist, but with practice became one of the finest painters of 18th-century France. With this brief introduction to Marguerite, we now will shape this discussion to learn more about her life and paintings.
An Introduction of the Artist.
As I mentioned the term French revolution earlier in the introduction, so to continue, I happened to use it to demonstrate the relationship between the situation and the common interest of people. For instance, considering the movement through art inventions, what most upsurged in Paris were the sentimental paintings. It was because of the large measure of the popularity of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's radical notion of displaying middle-class mothers with their domestic reality. He included scenes of mothers devoting themselves to children, breastfeeding and energizing with their focus on family and children. And numerous members became eager to acquire pictures which celebrated the spirits of being women and mothers. In all these events, the female-prolific artist of this sentimental genre of the eighteenth century was Marguerite Gerard.
Originally from Grasse, Marguerite was the daughter of a perfume distiller. When she got young, she moved to Paris, where she lived with her sister Marie Anne. Marguerite studied with her celebrated relative, Jean-Honore Fragonard, but was unable to join the French Royal Academy as an artist. However, it did not impact her reputation as she became one of the fine artists of Paris in Post-Revolutionay France. Marguerite also participated in several annual Salon exhibitions and won medals. In 1805, Napolean purchased one of her works, a contemporary history painting. However, she was best known for her sentimental domestic scenes.
Briefly Discussing Gerard's Early Life.
After her mother died in 1775, Marguerite moved with her sister to Paris and took art lessons from her brother-in-law Jean-Honore Fragonard. Under his guidance for the first three years, she produced her first etching, The Swaddled Cat, a depiction based on one of the drawings of her master, Jean. Marguerite Gerard signed it as,
"first plate of mille Gerard, aged 16, 1778."
Following this painting, the artist produced two more etchings and later commissioned art of only themes based on childhood, a change that stayed constant throughout her career and one which made her a renowned portraitist of domestic scenes rejoicing motherhood and joyous childhood.
Unfortunately, there is no elaborative account of Marguerite Gerard to learn her influences, financial position and education. But when we look closely at her paintings, a narrative study of the artist's life can be given. So to further study her life, let us move towards her gallery consisting of several frames and stories.
An Account of Her Career Through Art.
From the works of the artist like the Beloved Child from 1787-90 and First Steps of Childhood (1780-83), there is a clear message articulating the role of Marguerite Gerard in propagating the themes of Rousseau. A sizeable percentage of her work is composed of these images, which are in public collections and have received a great deal of attention in recent years. The compositions utilize the intimacy of women, the nurturing love of mothers and the joyous surroundings.
In the depiction of another painting, Bad News, 1804, Marguerite Gerard showed an exceptional emotion of freezing of the seated woman through a piece of bad news in the letter, the sympathy by another woman and genuine care between two females. There is fine detail through the carpets, the fur of the pet, and the drapery and folds of clothes.
A close inspection of her work reveals that the representation of cherished motherhood through Gerard's subject is not simple as they appear and exemplify normative female behaviour. From the Revue du Salon de l'An X, one of the critics remarks,
"Always a mommy with her little darling, always a dog, a maid, a cat, a cradle, a bird and some dolls."
This simple remark tells us that though there is a usual selection of subjects in Marguerite Gerard paintings, it connects with the visual and emotional world of the artist's life in a delightful and extraordinary approach.
For instance, in the Triumph of Raton, there is an object of affection through the child, cavouring around the performing dog and the mother holding the central stage displaying a ring biscuit. In the same composition, one can witness the overwhelming part of motherhood playing with lapdogs. Compared to Prudhon or Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun's paintings, Marguerite Gerard intended to show real domesticity through her paintings with the beautiful feelings they painted on canvas.
Gerard depicts the perfection of Metsu, a style often connected to 17th-century Dutch painters, showing refinement, detail, and high gloss. Based on Gabriel Metsu's work, Gerard created elegant images of women in love-related activities in the early 1780s in her Music Lesson of 1782 (known only through written descriptions). She handled subjects in a considerable emotional way through her colours and audacity in using Metsu. Throughout her life, Marguerite Gerard painted portraits, portrait miniatures, and sentimental paintings with a meticulous paint-handling style, which showed her impressive control over the technical skills of art.
Through the art of Marguerite Gerard, we understand that she had well-established conventions of an erotic description of the friendship of women and the pure fantasy of motherhood. She was an excellent painter who displayed uncomplicated subjects through her canvas and provided them value through an emotional bridge. We will continue to discover artists like Gerard as long as there is an ocean of french artistry to explore.