Marguerite Gérard. Artiste en 1789, dans l’atelier de Fragonard

Marguerite Gérard. An artist in 1789, in Fragonard’s workshop

Paris, Musée Cognac-Jay, from 10 September to 6 December 2009

1. Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
and Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)
The Angora Cat
Oil on canvas - 65 x 53.5 cm
London and Munich, galerie Konrad O. Bernheimer
Photo : Courtesy Galerie Konrad O. Bernheimer

Her name always linked to her master Fragonard – and the current exhibition is no exception to the rule – Marguerite Gérard always had a difficult time existing in her own right in the eyes of later generations. In the last few years, thanks to Pierre Rosenberg, Jean-Pierre Cuzin and now Carole Blumenfeld, curator of the exhibition along with José de Los Llanos, her work is now becoming better known and, at times, even encroaching that of her brother-in-law (or the opposite). Today, several paintings are attributed to a collaboration between both artists.

The exhibition at the Musée Cognac-Jay begins with one of these canvases apparently produced by the two, The Angora Cat (ill. 1), typical of genre scenes with a smooth finish strongly influenced by the Dutch Golden Age. Its conception and some parts are supposedly by Fragonard (notably the cat, the face of the young girl and the old woman in the background) while Marguerite Gérard is thought to have done the rest of the composition.
The sole purpose of presenting this canvas and some portraits drawn by Fragonard and Marguerite is to quickly place her in her artistic and family context as the exhibition – which is not a retrospective, since there is not enough space in the museum - does not touch upon the relationship between the master and his student. It offers a series of small portraits executed by Marguerite Gérard around 1789, many of which are in private collections.

2. Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)
Portrait of the Doctor François Thiery
Oil on wood - 21.6 x 15.9 cm
Los Angeles, collection
Lynda and Stewart Resnick
Photo : Arl rights reserved

3. Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)
Portrait of Marie Ledoux and her daughters
Oil on wood - 22 x 16 cm
Private collection
Photo : Pablo Gonzalez

Although this is not a series originally designed as an ensemble, each of these faces presents very similar characteristics. Their size is about 21 x 16 cm., the model is generally sitting, a few attributes linked to his position or social status suggest clues for their identification, one or two pieces of furniture balance the composition, often a small table (ill. 2) which practically corresponds to the artist’s signature.
The figures represented here many times are close to Marguerite Gérard and the works probably given as gifts to them. The success of this type of portrait convinced some “patrons” to commission similar ones from her. The models are thus artists (Hubert Robert, Charles de Wailly…), musicians (Grétry), gentlemen (the Marquis of Mirabeau) or bourgeois (Doctor Thiery – ill. 2). Some are group portraits such as the family of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (ill. 3) or that of another architect, not identified, his wife and their two children (cat. 17 ; Baltimore Museum of Art). The visitor thus observes a part of pre-Revolutionary society pass before him.

Marguerite Gérard’s small paintings, both by their size and treatment, can be considered as portraits de genre, as opposed to those produced by historical painters. One cannot help but compare them, and the exhibition does so also, to the countless small paintings by Louis-Léopold Boilly, as well as to Carmontelle’s watercolours. Comparisons to other works are also displayed. The Portrait of the Singer Elleviou and his Wife (cat. 45 ; private collection), long attributed to Marguerite Gérard, has been designated as being by Henri-Pierre Danloux thanks to Olivier Meslay. Their juxtaposition thus in fact demonstrates that this small oil on canvas cannot possibly be by Fragonard’s student. Her style – at least during the 1780’s – seems clearer thanks to this group of paintings which have been brought together here. Her smooth and meticulous brush at times reveals a certain stiffness, extremely different after all from Fragonard’s.

4. Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)
Presumed Portrait of Jean-Jacques Lagrenée
Oil on zinc - 18.4 x 13.5 cm
Paris, Musée Cognacq-Jay
Photo : Musée Cognacq-Jay

The exhibition provides the museum with the chance to show a painting from this series for the first time, exceptionally painted on zinc, acquired at auction at the Hôtel Drouot on 3 December 2008 [1]. Presented as a Portrait of a Man in a Double-breasted Coat, the model had not yet been identified. José de Los Llanos suggests, after comparing it to a work by Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard after François Dumont representing Jean-Jacques Lagrenée, that it is this painter.

In concluding, let us point out the excellent small catalogue published at this time, retracing in a very thorough way the history of this portrait series, their place in 18th century art and their historical interest. We would express only one regret : the process of physionotracing, invented in 1784, allowing the production of small portraits in a mechanical manner (the BnF has a large holding of these), should have been explained in more detail.

local/cache-vignettes/L115xH173/Couverture_Marguerite_Gerard-73ce1.jpgCarole Blumenfeld et José de Los Llanos, introduction de Pierre Rosenberg, Marguerite Gérard. Artiste en 1789, dans l’atelier de Fragonard, Edition Paris-Musées, 176 p., 34 €. ISBN : 9782758601097.

Visitor Informations : Musée Cognacq-Jay, 8, rue Elzévir, 75003 Paris. Tel : + 33 (0)1 40 27 07 21. Open daily except Monday from 10.00 to 6.00 pm. Rates : 5 €, Reducted : 3,5 et 2,5 €.

To round out this article, we would like to mention the publication of the proceedings for the colloquium devoted to La peinture de genre autour de 1800, that is around the time of Marguerite Gérard. Organized in 2007 by the Musée Fesch and the city of Ajaccio with the support of the Collectivité Territoriale de Corse, Cardinal Fesch, edited by Gourcouff-Gradenigo, this work contains contributions by Maria Teresa Caracciolo, Marylène Dinelli-Graziani, Carole Blumenfeld, Udolpho van de Sandt, Olivier Bonfait, Camille Faggianelli, Christina Egli, Suan L. Siegfried, Mehdi Korchane, Guilhem Scherf, Ue Fleckner, Philippe Bordes and a preface by Pierre Rosenberg.

Collective work, under the guidance of Philippe Costamagna and Olivier Bonfait, La peinture de genre au temps du cardinal Fesch, Gourcuff-Gradenidoff, 2008, 208 p., . ISBN : 9782353400621.

Version française

Didier Rykner, jeudi 22 octobre 2009


[1] For 16,000€ before charges.

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in Exhibitions : Fernand Pelez. La parade des humbles

Next article in Exhibitions : Turner and the Masters