François Pascal Simon Gérard, called Baron Gérard
(Rome 1770-1837 Paris)
Growing up in Rome, the neoclassical painter François Gérard acquired a love for Italian painting that was to accompany him throughout his life. He returned to Paris around 1782 and studied with artists such as the sculptor Augustin Pajou and the painter Jacques-Louis David, who hired him as an assistant in 1791.
In 1793, with the death of both parents and the assumption of full responsibility by his younger brother, Gérard earned a living illustrating folio editions of literature. The miniature painter Jean-Baptiste Isabey helped him repeatedly, especially by commissioning a portrait that launched Gérard’s reputation as a society portraitist in 1796. Praised for their naturalism and brilliant characterisations, Gérard’s portraits gained the attention of Napoleon and the favour of the court, rivalling even David. For historical and mythological subjects, Gérard based his style on David’s neoclassicism, but infused it with a dreamlike quality.
Politically flexible, Gérard was honoured by all the very different regimes that followed the French Revolution of 1789, including being recognised as a baron by Louis XVIII. Years later, one critic’s enthusiasm remained typical: ‘What does it matter that he is the king’s first painter? He is the king of the first painters’.