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By the early 1780s, Marguerite Gérard had produced many genre paintings featuring affluent women making music, taking lessons or, as here, rehearsing for informal concerts.

Inspired by 17th-century Dutch paintings, such scenes function on two levels. On one hand, they illustrate the expectation that young women of the upper classes were expected to be accomplished in various social arts, chiefly music. Yet recent scholarship has emphasized the traditional link between painted images of music making and physical love.

Here, the female singer is clad in a sumptuous white satin gown, attire often seen on Gérard’s female subjects. She pauses to gaze up at her male accompanist, perhaps in response to a romantic overture. The tension of an erotic narrative is further supported by the guitar, often compared to the female body; the dog, a traditional emblem of fidelity; and the cat, a symbol of sexual promiscuity.

The musical instrument shown in this painting is typical of European guitars from the 18th and 19th centuries. Smaller than the modern guitar, it has a flat bottom, a decorative rosette set into the sound hole, and only five strings (versus the now common six).

Details

  • Title: Prelude to a Concert
  • Creator: Marguerite Gérard
  • Date: ca. 1810
  • artist profile: Although she also produced oil portraits, portrait miniatures, and etchings, Marguerite Gérard is best known for intimate, domestic genre scenes. Gérard, who never married and apparently never demonstrated any interest in joining the French Royal Academy, had a tremendously successful career. She won three medals for her work, which she exhibited regularly once the Salons were opened to women in the 1790s. Her pictures were acquired by luminaries such as Napoleon, and she acquired considerable wealth and real estate. Her interest in art was shaped by her brother-in-law, the popular Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard, beginning in 1775, when she moved from Grasse to Paris to live with her sister’s family. As part of the Fragonard household, Gérard had considerable financial freedom, along with the opportunity to further her artistic training as her brother-in-law’s unofficial apprentice. By her mid-20s, Gérard had developed her signature style, which featured painstakingly accurate details rendered with subtly blended brush strokes. She borrowed both of these traits from 17th-century Dutch genre specialists, notably Gabriel Metsu. Gérard’s work is technically impressive but also practical: these relatively small-scale, portable canvases appealed to wealthy collectors. They preferred to display meticulously painted still lifes and genre scenes, rather than large history paintings, in their homes. The numerous engraved versions of Gérard’s paintings made them accessible to less affluent art lovers and helped increase her reputation.
  • Style: Rococo
  • Physical Dimensions: w18.75 x h22.25 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • External Link: National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Exhibitions: “An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum,” 2003; “Four Centuries of Women’s Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts,” 1990–91

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