Our painting with the evocative title of "Toilette de Minette" forms a valuable testimony of fashions of the time summing all the themes that crossed the period.
Initially, our panel exudes the French Directory by displaying this sober interior. The aristocratic stuccoes here make way for bare walls with brown hues, sparsely decorated, and furnished with a simple engraving. The Old Regime, however, is not entirely forgotten with this refined new society, whether it is present in the Flemish ewer infused with chiseling, also visible in the painting, Lady with Doves
, or the lacquered furniture, certainly the most valuable object of the room, but relegated to the middle ground.
The outfits of the two young ladies, perhaps sisters, are also splendid illustrations of this period of change in fashion as well as in morals. The tallest of the two women is wearing an apron dress with rolled sleeves, the vogue which lasted several years, and an under garment with satin stripes. The younger wears a lovely example of a spencer, these small rigid jackets disciplining the span of the sheath dresses, under a transparent shawl inspired by the Oriental styles brought from Egyptian campaigns.
However, the two stylish ladies are here more concerned by their pets than by their own activities. Marguerite Gérard liked cats to the point of depicting herself with a similar angora breed in an impressive portrait done in collaboration with Fragonard1
and offered the main role to this spaniel named Raton in charming paintings such as The Triumph of Raton.
Certainly the painter's art historian, Sally Wells-Robertson, reminds us that the representation of domestic animals was not trivial in Marguerite Gérard's painting, and that a young woman taking good care of her cat would soon find a good husband2
. However, are these moralizing naiveties not appeased here?
Primarily, though the scene appears to be vapid, it is above all the snapshot of a serene moment between two young ladies, isolated in their reverie. The masculine presence could still be evoked, according to the art historian Carole Blumenfeld3
, by the small bouquet of roses in the corner of the composition, perhaps offered by some lover.
Finally, beyond the documentary qualities, Gerard's paintings are above all a marvelous mixture of the artistic forces present, synthesized by a painter with a strong personality. A fairly Davidian metallic touch is thus mingled in her works to illustrate gallant scenes bearing the Rococo
inheritance. Her passion for the Dutch masters that she observed daily at the Louvre, where she lived since the 1770s, is also tangible in her interior scenes with the same silent calm but implied with a timely mischievousness.
1. Le chat angora, galerie Konrad O. Bernheimer
2. Sally Wells-Robertson, Marguerite Gérard 1761-1837, Thèse, Université de New York, 1978, p. 101
3. C. Blumenfeld, Le Cardinal Fesch et l'art de son temps, cat. exp. Ajaccio, Paris, 2007, p. 128