Art/ Collection/ Art Object

General Étienne-Maurice Gérard (1773–1852), Marshal of France

Jacques Louis David (French, Paris 1748–1825 Brussels)
Oil on canvas
77 5/8 x 53 5/8 in. (197.2 x 136.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers and Fletcher Funds, and Mary Wetmore Shively Bequest, in memory of her husband, Henry L. Shively, M.D., 1965
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 614
Following Napoleon’s defeat at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, Jacques Louis David, a leading figure in the French revolution and first painter to the Emperor, went into exile in Brussels. There he painted General Gérard, a high-ranking commander in the French army and a member of the imperial aristocracy who had also settled temporarily in the Belgian capital.

This portrait is among the first David painted in Brussels and it is remarkable for its clear, bright color and sharp realism.
Jacques Louis David was a leading figure in the revolution and later became first painter to the Emperor. Following the Bourbon restoration of 1815, however, David was forced into exile in Belgium, where he painted a series of portraits of French émigrés who had decamped to the Belgian capital. In fact, the majority of David’s commissions during this period came from French expatriates who were former members of the revolutionary movement or political allies of Napoleon.

One of David’s first portrait commissions in Brussels came from General Étienne-Maurice Gérard, a high-ranking commander in Napoleon’s army who had been present at the Battle of Waterloo. After the defeat of the Grande Armée at the hands of the British and Prussians, Gérard settled temporarily in Belgium. This depiction of Gérard by David was therefore the collaborative effort of two French exiles who, in the years following Napoleon’s downfall, were devoid of political power and at the nadirs of their respective careers. Gérard, however, did not dwell on the reversals he had recently suffered.

David’s portrait successfully expresses the feeling of confidence the commander maintained during this trying period in his life. With its bright, vivid colors, the likeness conveys a sense of documentary realism. The brilliant light gives a splendid sheen to the surfaces of fabrics and stones alike, with the result that the image’s various recessed spaces appear flattened. Otherwise, this is a conventional military portrait. Gérard wears his field service "undress" and riding boots with spurs. A middle-aged man, he holds an opened letter in one hand and grips the corner of his enormous bicorne in the other. He stands on a multicolored, checkerboard pavement, and an inscription on the post of the balustrade provides the artist’s name as well as the location and date of the portrait’s creation. A crimson brocade curtain hangs behind the general, and beyond the balcony, an Italianate landscape dotted with trees and towers stretches into the distance.

The honors Gérard received from kings and emperors are also on display, as his uniform is bedecked with military insignias, including the star and grand cordon of the Légion d’honneur. Additionally, the epaulettes on his jacket indicate that he was a général de division in the imperial army. Gérard is thus presented as a man of action who is worthy of holding other powerful positions and garnering future accolades. And the patron’s optimism about the future was not unwarranted: he would go on to revive his military and political careers, later returning to his native country to become minister of war, a marshal, and a senator.

[Charles Howard 2012]
Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed: (on pedestal base) L. DAVID. 1816 / BRUX[ELLES]; (on envelope) A Son Excellence / L[e] Gé[néral] Gérard / Com[mandant en] Chef. (To his excellency General Gérard, commander in chief)
the sitter, Brussels and, from 1817, château de Villers Saint-Paul, Oise (1816–d. 1852); his grandson, Jean-Etienne Desmiers d'Olbreuse, comte d'Archiac, château de Villers Saint-Paul (1852–d. 1927); his nephew and adopted son, comte Ferd. de Bryas (1927–d. 1958; his estate, 1958–59; sold to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, 1959–65; sold to MMA]
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "The Past Rediscovered: French Painting, 1800–1900," July 3–September 7, 1969, no. 22.

London. Royal Academy of Arts and Victoria and Albert Museum. "The Age of Neo-classicism," September 9–November 19, 1972, no. 70 [shown at Royal Academy].

New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Consulat-Empire-Restauration: Art in Early XIX Century France," April 21–May 28, 1982, unnumbered cat.

Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty Museum. "Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile," February 1–April 24, 2005, no. 50.

Williamstown, Mass. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. "Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile," June 5–September 5, 2005, no. 50.

Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Portraits publics, portraits privés, 1770–1830," October 4, 2006–January 9, 2007, no. 130.

London. Royal Academy of Arts. ""Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760–1830," February 3–April 20, 2007, no. 142.

Stockholm. Nationalmuseum. "Staging Power: Napoleon, Charles John, Alexander," September 30, 2010–January 23, 2011, no. 331.

Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages de M. J.-L. David. Paris, 1824, p. 67.

A. Th[omé de Gamond]. Vie de David. Paris, 1826, pp. 145, 166, relates an anecdote in which the Prussian king's brother, Prince Mansfield, visited David in his Brussels studio where he saw this portrait in progress.

P. A. Coupin. Essai sur J. L. David, peintre d'histoire . . . Paris, 1827, p. 57.

Charles Blanc. Histoire des peintres français au dix-neuvième siècle. Paris, 1845, vol. 1, pp. 197, 212.

Miette de Villars. Mémoires de David, peintre et député à la Convention. Paris, 1850, pp. 207–8.

E. J. Delécluze. Louis David, son école & son temps. Paris, 1855, pp. 367–68 n. 1 [repr. 1983, "Louis David, son école & et (sic) son temps"].

Jean du Seigneur. "Appendice à la notice de P. Chaussard sur L. David." Revue universelle des arts 18 (1864), p. 367.

J. L. Jules David. Notice sur le Marat de Louis David suivie de la liste de ses tableaux dressée par lui-même. Paris, 1867, p. 38.

J. L. Jules David. Le peintre Louis David, 1748–1825. Vol. 1, Souvenirs & documents inédits. Paris, 1880, pp. 531, 583, 649, as belonging to the comte d'Archiac, château de Villers Saint-Paul (Oise); describes the costume as that of a "général de division, décoré du grand cordon de la Légion d'honneur".

Charles Saunier. Louis David. Paris, 1904, p. 119.

Isabella Errera. Répertoire des peintures datées. Vol. 1, Brussels, 1920, p. 526.

Richard Cantinelli. Jacques-Louis David, 1748–1825. Paris, 1930, p. 113, no. 139.

Klaus Holma. David, son evolution et son style. Paris, 1940, p. 129, no. 145.

Louis Hautecœur. Louis David. Paris, 1954, p. 264.

[Denys Sutton]. "The Magnificent 'Met'." Apollo 82 (September 1965), pp. 166–68, fig. 4.

Theodore Rousseau in "Ninety-fifth Annual Report of the Trustees, for the Fiscal Year 1964–1965." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 24 (October 1965), pp. 55–57, ill., notes the influence of Rubens.

La chronique des arts, supplément à la Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 67 (February 1966), pl. 232.

Claus Virch. "The Story of Bruegel's Harvesters: A Curator's Coup." Connoisseur 172 (November 1969), pp. 222–23, fig. 1.

Norman Schlenoff. "L'age du Néoclassicisme." L'Oeil nos. 212–13 (August–September 1972), pp. 5–6, ill., ascribes the head and hands to David, but sees the excessive attention to detail elsewhere as a sign of the collaboration of Brussels painters.

Daniel Wildenstein and Guy Wildenstein. Documents complémentaires au catalogue de l'oeuvre de Louis David. [Paris], [1973], p. 204 no. 1777, p. 227 no. 1938.

Anthony M. Clark in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 81, ill.

Anita Brookner. Jacques-Louis David. New York, 1980, p. 178, pl. 109, comments on the "undeniable presence of General Gérard and the flimsiness of his surroundings".

Colonel Mac Carthy. Letter to Dean Walker. January 7, 1980 [Mac Carthy was "Conseiller" at the Musée de l'Armée, Hôtel des Invalides], identifies the medals worn by General Gérard.

Antoine Schnapper. David. English ed. [French ed. 1980]. New York, 1982, pp. 282, 286, pl. 179, comments that David "painted the general at the single low point of a distinguished career. His square, stocky appearance is marvelously rendered but otherwise the painting has the superficial elegance of another Gérard, David's former pupil".

Luc de Nanteuil. Jacques-Louis David. New York, 1985, pp. 51, 70, 156, colorpl. 43.

Donna Marie Hunter. "Second Nature: Portraits by J.-L. David, 1769–1792." PhD diss., Harvard University, 1988, p. 49, pl. 5, mentions it among the "banal" portraits painted during the Belgian years, "probably with the help of assistants".

Régis Michel. David: L'art et le politique. Paris, 1988, pp. 122, 172, ill. (color).

Jean-Jacques Lévêque. La vie et l'oeuvre de Jacques-Louis David. Paris, 1989, pp. 222–23, ill. (color), observes that David forecasts here the decorative type and pose of the first photographs.

Warren Roberts. Jacques-Louis David, Revolutionary Artist: Art, Politics, and the French Revolution. Chapel Hill, 1989, p. 198.

Elisabeth Agius-d'Yvoire in Jacques-Louis David, 1748–1825. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1989, pp. 21, 514, ill.

Jean-Rémy Mantion. "David en toutes lettres." David contre David. Ed. Régis Michel. Paris, 1993, vol. 2, p. 809.

Denis Coekelberghs and Pierre Loze. "David à Bruxelles et la peinture en Belgique." David contre David. Ed. Régis Michel. Paris, 1993, vol. 2, p. 1052.

Sophie Monneret. David et le néoclassicisme. Paris, 1998, pp. 190–91, 196, ill., sees the influence of Rubens, Van Dyck, and Thomas Lawrence.

Simon Lee. David. London, 1999, pp. 290–91, ill. (color).

Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat. Jacques-Louis David, 1748–1825: Catalogue raisonné des dessins. Milan, 2002, vol. 2, p. 1161, ill., under no. 1898, illustrate and discuss a preparatory sketch.

Philippe Bordes J. Paul Getty Museum. Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile. New Haven, 2005, pp. 292, 301, 304, 307–11, 329, ill. (b & w and color), remarks that David achieved a balance "between formal pose and naturalness" and observes that Gérard's presence is animated by "the batch of letters he holds, as if to dispel any intimation of moral solitude in exile"; sees the portraits painted by François Gérard since the Consulate as the immediate inspiration; states that General Gérard married in 1816, returned to France in 1817, and purchased the château of Villers Saint-Paul; rejects Schlenoff's argument that Flemish assistants collaborated in this work.

Robert Rosenblum in Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760–1830. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 2007, p. 266 [French ed., Portraits publics, portraits privés, 1770–1830, Paris, 2006, p. 324], comments on the traditional staging, in which the "even, flattening light, not to mention the sharp-focus detail . . . transforms the traditional rhetoric of aristocratic and military portraiture into commonplace fact".

Born in Damvilliers (Meuse) in 1773, General Gérard had a brilliant career in the revolutionary and Napoleonic armies. After saving the rear guard in the retreat from Russia, he was promoted to Général de Division. He commanded the army of the Moselle during the Hundred Days, and became a peer of France. In 1836 Gérard was named grand chancellor of the Légion d'honneur, and in 1852 he became a senator under the Empire.

According to Colonel MacCarthy, Conseiller at the Musée de l'Armée, Paris, Gérard wears from left to right the following decorations:

1. around his neck, the grand-croix of the order of Daneborg, conferred in 1808 when he was chef d'état-major to Maréchal Bernadotte while the maréchal was in Copenhagen

2. star of an officer of the Légion d'honneur

3. order of the Réunion—Gérard held the grade grand'croix after April 3, 1813, but in this portrait he wears only the insignia of an officer and not the plaque or grand cordon of the grand'croix of the Réunion (the order was suppressed by Luois XVIII in 1815)

4. above right, plaque of the grand'croix of the Légion d'honneur

5. lower right, plaque of commandeur grand'croix of the order of the sword of Sweden, conferred on July 29, 1814

Under his jacket is the grand cordon of the grand'croix of the Légion d'honneur. Gérard is in field service undress, without any embroidery on his jacket. The white feathers on his hat indicate a commanding officer of an army corps, Gérard's role during the campaign of 1815.
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