La Mère Gérard

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 24
Date: 1858
Medium: etching
Size: 129 x 90 mm
Signed: 'Whistler - ' at lower left (2-final)
Inscribed: 'Imp. Delatre. Rue St. Jacques. 171.' at lower centre (4)
Set/Publication: 'French Set', 1858
No. of States: 4
Known impressions: 53
Catalogues: K.11; M.13; T.6; W.9
Impressions taken from this plate  (53)


clothing, dress, flower-seller, portrait, woman standing, worker.


The title 'La Mère Gérard' was used by Whistler and by all later cataloguers, as for example:

'La mère Gérard' (1858, Whistler). 2
'La Mère Gérard' (1858, Whistler). 3
'La Mère Gérard' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 4

2: Inscribed on Graphic with a link to impression #K0110424.

3: Douze eaux-fortes d'après Nature.

4: Thomas 1874 (cat. no. 6).


An elderly woman stands in front of a wall, slightly turned to right, looking toward the viewer. The sun is shining from the left, casting strong shadows down on her face and to right, on the wall. She is staring intently at the artist/viewer, with her lips pressed tightly together. She wears layers of clothes: a buttoned waist-length cape; a long, heavy jacket with cuffs over either a long-sleeved blouse or jumper; a white apron over a full, striped skirt; another apron with a large chequered pattern. She holds in her left hand a bulky piece of striped material, possibly a shawl. A high-crowned bonnet is tied with crumpled ribbons round her neck. She has neat, narrow shoes or boots.
Wedmore described the woman as 'A keen old Frenchwoman standing, with small light bonnet, and dark tippet down to the elbows.' 5

5: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 9).


Mèrard Gérard (fl. 1810-1860). Whistler made two etchings of her, La Mère Gérard and La Mère Gérard, Stooping [25], and two oil portraits, also called La Mère Gérard (1) [y026], and La Mère Gérard (2) [y027]. 6 The latter shows her holding violets for sale (she is said to have sold flowers outside the Bal Bullier in Paris).

6: YMSM 1980 (cat. nos. 26-27).


In his youth, Whistler admired the caricatures of Paul Gavarni (1804-1866), and drew studies that were inspired by them. 7 The wood engraving of Le Bas-bleu, from Gavarni's Les Français peints par lui-mêmes (Paris, 1840-1842), is illustrated by Lochnan as a possible inspiration for La Mère Gérard [24]. 8

7: i.e. 'Vive les Débardeurs!!' [m0133].

8: Lochnan 1984, pp. 32-33.