Friday, March 9, 2012

Gerard, Francois

Empress Josephine at Malmaison (Portrait of Empress Josephine)
1801 (Napoleon and Napoleonic Wars)
oil on canvas
171x164 cm
Musee Nat. du Chateau de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison, France

François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard (1770 – 1837) was a French painter born in Rome, where his father occupied a post in the house of the French ambassador.  As a baron of the Empire he is sometimes referred to as Baron Gérard.

This portrait of Josephine , wife of Napoleon, First Consul of France, represents a new type of more accessible portrait, lacking in official pomp. The First Lady is seen in relaxed pose, with thoughtful gaze, on the open terrace of the palace at Malmaison as she perhaps takes a rest after a walk.
The park landscape and bunch of flowers on the divan create an atmosphere of sentimental poetry, emphasizing the inner state of the sitter, which was so typical of the Romantic period. Yet the idealization of the sitter, the static composition built upon a balance of horizontal and vertical lines, and the classicizing style of the dress and hairstyle are very much based upon the traditions of Neoclassicism.

The portrait launched Gérard’s career as a portraitist, whose works were much sought-after because of their naturalism and brilliant characterizations. Gérard’s reputation remained high through the Restoration period. In 1817 he became court painter to Louis XVIII, and was ennobled in 1819.