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Gérard had established a reputation for herself by the mid-1780s and was considered among the leading female artists of her time, along with Adelaide Labille-Guiard and Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. She was a regular contributor to the Salon from 1799 to 1824, after the restriction on women exhibitors was lifted. Her work was further popularized through engravings. This painting and indeed ‘Le petit messager’ and ‘La chat angora’, both presently with Colnaghi, are typical of the types of paintings that the artist exhibited around the 19th Century. They depict the idealized private world of bourgeois and upper-class women.
The Colnaghi painting is one of three known versions of this subject painted by Marguerite Gérard. Three versions are recorded by Sarah Wells-Robertson (op. cit.): a painting on canvas that was exhibited at the Salon of 1804 (Robertson, no. 70, 62 x 51 cm.); the Colnaghi version on panel (Robertson, no. 70a, 64 x 53 cm.); and a smaller version on canvas (Robertson, no.70b, 26 x 20 cm.). A fourth version of this composition was offered at auction, Sotheby's, New York, 28 May 1999, lot 207. It is possible that the latter is an unrecorded painting of this subject but, judging by its quality, it may well be the lost Salon painting of 1804, executed on panel and not on canvas as catalogued by Robertson.
Our painting is unmistakably the second version of the 1804 Salon picture. It has the differentiating characteristics mentioned by Robertson - the bow on the bodice worn by the lady standing and the swept back fringe of her hair. This painting also dates to 1804, at which time Robertson describes Gérard as, "at the peak of her career, and the Grande dame of French genre painting". She also notes that "La bonne nouvelle is a quintessential example of the Gérardian genre picture” (op.cit.). La bonne nouvelle depicts two wealthy young women reading a letter amidst sumptuous surroundings of a boudoir, the viewer is left to interpret the content, perhaps with romantic inuendos. The restrained interior scene is enlivened by the narcissistic spaniel admiring himself, and his blue ribbon, in the mirror. While it is true that animals often had an overt symbolic function in seventeenth-century works, in our picture the spaniel adds a jovial touch to the scene. In Gérard’s oeuvre, there is none of the drama and passion found in comparable works by Greuze or Fragonard. The closest parallel is perhaps the calmness and serenity found in the genre paintings of Chardin, although the beautiful young ladies in our work are some distance from the more mundane and earthy women of the latter. They are figures enclosed in a safe and sealed world. It is an environment, elegant and refined, that Gérard constructs from familiar motifs drawn from earlier sources and yet rearranges quite uniquely to create a world that is all her own.
|Height||65.10 cm||(25.63 inches)|
|Width||53.70 cm||(21.14 inches)|