Marguerite Gérard was a successful painter and printmaker who worked in the Rococo style. She was born in Grasse, France in 1761, her father was the perfumer Claude Gérard. When she was only eight years old, she became the sister-in-law of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a prolific painter of French Rococo, and when she was a teenager, she went to live with him.
Gérard became interested in art while living with her sister Marie-Anne Fragonard and her brother-in-law, in Paris. She had aspirations of becoming an artist just like her sister, who was a miniaturist. Fragonard encouraged her ambitions. In the mid-1770s she became Fragonard’s pupil and studied painting, drawing and printmaking under his tutelage. They created nine etching in 1778, it is believed that Gérard was the sole artist of five of these etchings, since many have a duplicate created by her tutor. More than 300 genre paintings, 80 portraits, and several miniatures have been documented as her work.
First, she worked from his drawings to create her first pieces of work; soon after, she began to create her own genre paintings. Her depictions of everyday life resemble the style of artists of Dutch 17th century such as Gerard Ter Borch and Gabriël Metsu. Like these artists, she painted meticulous details using finely blended brushstrokes.
As a genre artist, she focused on portraying scenes of intimate and domestic life. By depicting these minor domestic dramas of the rich middle class, she not only paved the way for the other women artists, but also men of the next generation, including her nephew Alexandre Evariste, to whom she tried to be what Fragonard was to her. Her paintings were unpretentious and represented the major underground current in the art of the early 1800s.
Unlike other women painters who liked to refer to classical antiquity, Gérard often used costumes and settings from a few centuries before her own. Domestic cats and dogs also show up repeatedly in her work. Many of her paintings illustrate the experience of the motherhood and childhood within the home, and several emphasise the importance of music and female companionship.
- Her painting La Clémence de Napoleon 1er, was purchased by Napoleon in 1808.
- One of her more ambitious engravings, Le Génie de Franklin, depicts an allegorical scene of Benjamin Franklin and America personified as a woman. Thins engraving’s subject matter helped introduce Gérard’s work to a larger audience since prints could be produced easily. Gérard also painted at least thirty-five portraits of painters, actors, and patrons between 1787 and 1791.