Marguerite Gérard was one of the few female artists during
her era. She developed a romantic style that is evident in many of her works,
which made her contemporaries envious of Marguerite's painting abilities. The
technical precision in which she would use shading and subtle tones to produce
an almost life like painting is simply amazing. Marguerite was described as
having unique skills in her ability to reproduce the many different textures
of the clothing that her subjects wore while posing.
Born in Grasse, France in 1761, Marguerite would soon move to Paris after her
mother died in 1775. She would live with her sister Marie-Anne and
Marie's husband Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Marguerite would
learn much of her artistic skills from Fragonard.
Over the next 30 years,
Marguerite would gain much knowledge of art history and the different styles
that artists used in creating their works. She would gain this knowledge due to
the fact she was living in the Louvre and had access to study all of the works
When Marguerite was 24, she was one of the first French women paint
with such an expressive and realist style. She became known as one of France's
leading female artists in the late 1780s.
Marguerite like the other female artist of that time was unable to have and
their art exhibited at the Academy Royale, since they allowed only four new
women members per session.
Many of Marguerite's works gained popularity after artists such as Gerald
Vidal and Robert de Launay made engravings of some of her paintings.
As many other female artists, Marguerite was not allowed study of the nude body,
which was extremely essential for artwork. This did not detour Marguerite
though, she would gain her knowledge of the nude form by studying paintings made
by Dutch painters from the 17th century. This would allow her to develop a
precise and romantic style that would please the public and art critics all
through her career. In 1801, Marguerite would win a medal for promising artists
and their works known as Prix d’Encouragement. In 1804, she would win a gold medal called the Médaille d’Or for another of her beautiful paintings. History tells us that Napoleon
bought her one and only contemporary history painting and would commission
Marguerite for many of her unique works.
After the French Revolution the art galleries in Paris would allow women to exhibit
their works. Marguerite would have her work exhibited from 1799 to 1824 and was one of the most successful artists.
Marguerite began to paint portraits, at first she specialized in smaller
portraits of her friends. Later in her career she would paint larger, more
detailed portraits that would borrow from her detailed expressionist style. She
is said to have painted over 70 portraits and over 300 paintings. Although many
of these paintings are documented, the majority of her drawings can not be
linked to her. This is due to the fact that most of her preliminary sketches for
her paintings were made on canvas and drawn with oils.
Many of her paintings show us her vision of how the wealthy women of her era lived. She would often portray her subjects in a setting where the family
is relaxing as their children and pets play without a care in the world, living a wealthy, sheltered, and carefree life.
Marguerite unlike many of the people in her paintings, would never marry. Her
art career would last more than 50 years, during which she became a shrewd businesswoman, who would often lend money to aristocrats and would charge them large interest fees on the repayment of their loan.
During her career there was a rumor that Marguerite was having an affair with
her brother-in-law, this rumor is false according to Marguerite, who often
referred to him as her "good little father". There is a however a question
surrounding the collaboration with Fragonard in the mid 1780s. Some art scholars say you can see Fragonard’s style in
some of Marguerite's
paintings from her early career, and others critics say that Fragonard could not
paint in the precise technical manner of his student. Marguerite used such a high level of precision brushwork, coloring, and
sentimentality in her paintings that helped her maintain her success throughout
Her skill in the reproduction of textures and surfaces with trompe l'oeil
precision and her style for using a palette of silver and gold colors enhanced
by the glaze she used, made her paintings seem lifelike. Marguerite’s paintings
were ahead of their time, they portrayed scenes adored by the public from the
19th century onwards, yet they also portray a sense of the isolation that was
normal for an educated woman of that era.
Sadly Marguerite Gérard died on May 18th, 1837, after having a successful career as an artist.
Many of her paintings are still on display in museums around the world, such
Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, UK
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Jean-Honoré Fragonard Museum-Villa, Grasse, France
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Harvard University Art Museums, Massachusetts
For More information on other lesser known female artists that
you should read about, please check Lesser known female artists.