‘La Bonne Nouvelle’


‘La Bonne Nouvelle’

1761 to 1837 France

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Born in 1761, Gérard moved to Paris in 1775 where she lived with her sister Marie-Anne and her sister’s husband Fragonard in their quarters in the Louvre. She became his protégé and may well have collaborated with him in the 1780s (e.g. First Steps of Childhood, c.1780-83; The Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA). She lived for the next 30 years in the Louvre, where she was able to study masterpieces of art – an important factor given that, as a woman, she was deprived of an academic training. While Fragonard's tutelage was important to her technical development, it was her interest in Dutch masters of the 17th century that truly characterized her work. It was from these "conversation pieces" that she drew inspiration for her sentimental themes and learned to indulge in meticulous detail. While her canvases record the privileged and secluded lives of educated women of her own time, they also look forward to the domestic genre scenes that became so popular later in the nineteenth century. By 1785, she had become a respected genre painter, the first French woman to do so, and, alongside artists such as Vallayer-Coster and Vigée-Lebrun, was one of the leading women artists in France. An accomplished portrait painter, she exhibited at the Salon from 1799 to 1824. Her work was popularized through engravings by Gérard Vidal, Robert de Launay and her brother Henri Gérard. Although her favourite themes were maternal roles, she herself never married, pursuing instead a long and successful career until her death in 1837.

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.

Anon. Sale; Paris, 24 December 1821, lot 10, as 'Intérieur d'appartement offrant le sujet de deux jeunes personnes occupées à la lecture d'une lettre', (Possibly) Général Ribourt. Sale, Drouot, Paris, 25 - 26 March 1895, lot 21; Muhlbacher. Sale, Paris, 14 May 1907, lot 28; Seligmann collection, 1937; Anon. Sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 10 June 1954, lot 28; Bruni-Tedeschi collection.
S. Wells-Robertson, Marguerite Gérard, unpublished dissertation, New York, 1978, II, pt. 2, p. 846, no. 70a.
Height 65.10 cm (25.63 inches)
Width 53.70 cm (21.14 inches)
Oil on panel
Signed lower left: Mle gérard
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