Marguerite Gérard (Grasse 1761-1837 Paris)
Marguerite Gérard (Grasse 1761-1837 Paris)

La Nourrice (The wet nurse)

Marguerite Gérard (Grasse 1761-1837 Paris)
La Nourrice (The wet nurse)
indistinct traces of a signature (lower left)
oil on panel
23½ x 19 1/8 in. (59.7 x 48.6 cm.)
Wilkinson; Christie's, London, 15 May 1813, lot 76, for £52.10sh., to William Parr; Christie's, London, 2 April 1814, lot 64, for £52.10sh., to Caper.
Henri Stettiner, 1902.
A. G. Temple, Catalogue of the exhibition of a selection of works by French and English painters of the Eighteenth Century, the exhibition catalogue, London, 1902, p. 129.
M. Tourneaux, "Lettre de Mme. de Vandeul, Née Diderot, sur le Salon de l'An X", Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art français, Paris, 1912, p. 130.
A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts : a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, London, 1913, p. 411.
S. Wells-Roberson, Marguerite Gérard, thesis, New York, 1978, II, pt. 1, p. 837, no. 64, illustrated.
(Possibly), Paris, Salon of 1802, no. 113, as 'Jeune femme allaitant son enfant'.
London, Art Gallery of the Corporation of London, Guildhall, Exhibition of a selection of works by French and English painters of the Eighteenth Century, 22 April - 26 July 1902.

Lot Essay

Unlike, La bonne nouvelle, the present painting does not appear to have been replicated by Gérard. While the theme of nursing recurs in Gérard's oeuvre, see for example La Mère Nourrice of 1804 (op. cit., no. 72), the inclusion of a companion to the woman nursing is unique. It is the singular nature of this composition that leads Sarah Wells-Robertson to conclude that this is the painting that was exhibited as, Une jeune femme allaitant son enfant, no. 113 at the Salon of 1802.

Robertson points out that the title, La nourrice, incites some questions about the iconography of this picture. It seems to imply that the child is being nursed by a servant whereas Robertson notes that "one would expect the exemplary Gérardian woman to nurse her child herself according to the tenants of Rousseau" (op. cit.). This treatment of the subject did not go unnoticed by contemporary critics, one of whom used it as inspiration for a poem, Une mère de famille voyant allaiter son enfant par une nourrice. Gérard introduces another surprising innovation into this sweet scene, she boldly displays the breast of the nursing figure. It is in these thematic subtleties that Gérard shows herself to be an astute social commentator, continually exploring issues pertinent to women at the time.

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