Gerard, fl. 1810-1860
Date of Birth:
Mère Gérard was a flower seller and artist's model.
According to Duret, Mère Gérard, who had once run a cabinet de lecture (a small lending library), was reduced to selling flowers at the door of the bal Bullier in Paris. Pennell (1908) said she was very old and almost blind, was said to write verses, had come down in the world, and sold violets and matches at the gate of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.
Whistler's painted at least two portraits of her, La Mère Gérard (1) y026, and La Mère Gérard (2) y027. The former was probably painted in the autumn of 1858, before 6 November, when he left Paris to spend Christmas in London with the Hadens, and completed after Whistler's return to Paris, on 12 January 1859. It may be the portrait which Whistler described in a letter to his half-sister after returning to Paris: 'I have very nearly finished a painting of a head from life, which is likely to be the best thing I have yet done-' (#01913). Pennell (1908) reports Whistler as saying that this was the first original picture he painted in Paris; Thomas Armstrong thought the same. According to Armstrong (ed. Lamont), the oil was praised by Courbet when he saw it in Bonvin's studio. It was apparently, according to Pennell (1908), intended to be given to the sitter, but Whistler considered it too good for her and gave her a copy (YMSM 27); she 'saw the difference and was furious'.
There are two undated etchings of the sitter (K.11 and K.12) the first of which was included in the series issued in 1858 as 'Twelve Etchings from Nature'. They show her as an elderly figure, with wrinkled features and fiercely independent expression, dressed in layers of clothes to keep warm.
Way, Thomas Robert, and G. R. Dennis, The Art of James McNeill Whistler, London, 1903, pp. 22-3; Duret, Théodore, Histoire de J. McN. Whistler et de son oeuvre, Paris, 1904, pp. 11-12; exh. cat., London 1905 (de luxe edn), repr. f.p. 88; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, I, pp. 57, 68, 73-4, 94, repr. p. 58; Kennedy, Edward G., The Etched Work of Whistler, New York, 1910 (11, 12); Lamont, L. M. (ed.), Memoir of Thomas Armstrong, London, 1912, pp. 179, 186, 190; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Whistler Journal, Philadelphia, 1921, pp. 78, 80, 93.