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François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard
At the age of twelve Gérard obtained admission into the Pension du Roi at Paris. From the Pension he passed to the studio of Pajou (sculptor), which he left at the end of two years for that of the painter Brenet , whom he quitted almost immediately to place himself under David. In 1789 he competed for the Prix de Rome, which was carried off by his comrade Girodet. In the following year (1790) he again presented himself, but the death of his father prevented the completion of his work, and obliged him to accompany his mother to Rome. In 1791 he returned to Paris; but his poverty was so great that he was forced to forgo his studies in favor of employment which should bring in immediate profit.
David at once availed himself of his help, and one of that masters most celebrated pictures--"Le Pelletier de St Fargeau"--may owe much to the hand of Gérard. This painting was executed early in 1793, the year in which Gérard, at the request of David, was named a member of the revolutionary tribunal, from the fatal decisions of which he, however, invariably absented himself. In 1794 he obtained the first prize in a competition, the subject of which was "The Tenth of August," and, further stimulated by the successes of his rival and friend Girodet in the Salons of 1793 and 1794, Gérard (nobly aided by Isabey the miniaturist) produced in 1795 his famous "Blisaire."
In 1796 a portrait of his generous friend (in the Louvre) obtained undisputed success, and the money received from Isabey for these two works enabled Gérard to execute in 1797 his "Psyche et l'Amour". The second generation of the Neoclassical style cultivated an aestheticism of beautiful physique that seemed to be trying to discover the limits of what was feasible. The new intention was already evident in Gérard's Cupid and Psyche, which was shown in the Salon of 1798. The intention was to take physical beauty, line, composition, colour and delicacy of the handling of flesh to perfection.
At last, in 1799, his portrait of Madame Bonaparte established his position as one of the first portrait-painters of the day. In 1808 as many as eight, in 1810 no less than fourteen portraits by him, were exhibited at the Salon, and these figures afford only an indication of the enormous numbers which he executed yearly; all the leading figures of the empire and of the restoration, all the most celebrated men and women of Europe, sat to Gérard. This extraordinary vogue was due partly to the charm of his manner and conversation, for his salon was as much frequented as his studio; Madame de Staël, Canning, Talleyrand, the duke of Wellington, have all borne witness to the attraction of his society.
Rich and famous, Gérard was stung by remorse for earlier ambitions abandoned; at intervals he had indeed striven to prove his strength with Girodet and other rivals, and his "Bataille d'Austerlitz" (1810) showed a breadth of invention and style which are even more conspicuous in "L'Entre d'Henri IV" (Versailles)--the work with which in 1817 he did homage to the Bourbons.
In 1819 Chateaubriand's wife conceived the idea of a charitable asylum for distressed noblewomen and priests fallen on hard times. It was christened the Infirmerie Marie-Therese, after the wife of the future Charles X. It was adame Récamier who took the lead in commissioning David's pupil Gérard to paint the princess's patron saint, Theresa of Avila - most famous for her concept of 'mystic marriage' with God — and presented the 7theresa.jpg to the new chapel.
The painting was shown in the salon before being installed in the chapel. With its beautiful saint kneeling in rapt devotion, the work soon became as defining work of Romanticism as Delacroix's Sardanapalus, seen in the same exhibition.
After this date Gérard declined, watching with impotent grief the progress of the Romantic school. Loaded with honors--baron of the empire, member of the Institute, officer of the legion of honor, first painter to the king--he worked on sad and discouraged; the revolution of 1830 added to his disquiet; and on the 11th of January 1837, after three days of fever, he died. By his portraits Gérard is best remembered; the color of his paintings has suffered, but his drawings show in uninjured delicacy the purity of his line; and those of women are specially remarkable for a virginal simplicity and frankness of expression.
M. Ch. Lenormant published in 1846 Essai de biographie et de critique sur François Gérard, a second edition of which appeared in 1847; and M. Delcluze devoted several pages to the same subject in his work Louis David, son école et son temps.
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