Lot 18
  • 18

MARGUERITE GÉRARD & JEAN-HONORÉ FRAGONARD1761 - 1837 AND 1732 - 1806 | The Interesting Student

300,000 - 400,000 EUR
bidding is closed


  • The Interesting Student
  • 64,6 x 55 cm ; 25 1/2  by 21 2/3  in.
Oil on canvas


Joseph François Xavier Le Pestre, comte de Seneffe de Turnhout's Collection, Paris;
Revolutionary seizure during his exil in italy and transport of the collection to Nesle's depot (Arch. nat., F17*372, 8 avril 1794 [19 germina an III]; Acquired by Antoine-Gabriel Aimé Jourdan, fermier of the cristallerie de Saint-Louis, with part of the collection stored at the Nesle's depot (Arch. m. nat., Registre de Réception des objets d'art et antiquités trouvés chez les Emigrés et condamnés, réservés par la Commission temporaire des Arts adjoints du Comité d'Instruction publique, 1 DD 6); 
Sale Jourdan, Paris, 4 avril 1803 [ Alexandre-Joseph Paillet et Hippolyte Delaroche), n° 18 (Marguerite Gérard), sold 505 francs.

- Collection of Joseph François Xavier Le Pestre, Comte de Seneffe de Turnhout, Paris;
- Seized from the Temple on 8 April 1794 [19 Germinal Year III] by the revolutionary authorities, along with other works belonging to the same prince, and sent to the Hôtel de Nesle, Rue de Beaune;
- Transferred on the orders of the Interior Minister to Antoine Gabriel Jourdan (1740-1804), ‘farmer’ from the Müntzthal national glassworks in Lorraine;
- Jourdan sale, Paris, 4 April 1803 (Alexandre-Joseph Paillet and Hippolyte Delaroche), lot 18 (Marguerite Gérard), sold for 505 francs;
- By descent to his godson, Aimé Gabriel d’Artigues (1773-1848), director of the Saint-Louis glassworks;
- His daughter Anne Gabrielle d’Artigues (1833-1889), who in 1853 married Comte Charles-Édouard de Ribes (1824-1896), mayor of Belle-Église (Oise);
- Their son, Comte Charles-Aimé-Auguste de Ribes (1858-1917);
- His son, Comte Jean-Édouard de Ribes (1893-1982);
- His son, Comte Édouard-Auguste-Édouard de Ribes (1923-2013);
- The current owners


- Petits Théâtres de l'intime – La peinture de genre française entre Révolution et Restauration, Toulouse, Musée des Augustins, 2011-2012, p. 90-91, n° 19


- L. Tuetey, « Procès-verbaux de la Commission des monuments (1790-93), Nouvelles Archives de l'Art français ». Revue de l'Art français ancien et moderne, t. XVII, 1901. Société de l'Histoire de l'Art français, 1902, p. 338 
- Doin, « Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837) », La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, décembre 1912, p. 436 
- S. Wells-Robertson, Marguerite Gérard, Ph. D, New-York University, 1978, pp. 750-751, n°17 
- S. Wells-Robertson, "Marguerite Gérard et les Fragonard », Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art français, 1979, p. 184 
- J.-P. Cuzin, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Vie et oeuvre. Catalogue complet des peintures, Fribourg, 1987, p. 355, n° D212 "(Marguerite Gérard (et Fragonard?)"
- G. Scherf, « Problèmes d'attribution : Marbres de Falconet, Tassaert et Broche », dans cat. exp. Falconet à Sèvres 1757-1766, Sèvres, Musée national de Céramique de Sèvres, 2001-2002, note 21 p. 44
- J.-P. Cuzin, "Fragonard en 2006", dans cat. expo. Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732 - 1806), Barcelone, 2006-2007, p. 201 (vers 1785-1786, "Fragonard et Marguerite Gérard?")
- C. Blumenfeld dans cat. exp. Marguerite Gérard – Artiste en 1789, dans l'atelier de Fragonard, Paris, musée Cognacq-Jay, 2009, p. 19
- C. Blumenfeld, Marguerite Gérard et la peinture de la fin des années 1770 aux années 1820, thèse de doctorat, Lille, 2011, p. 32, n° 27
- C. Blumenfeld, Marguerite Gérard, 1761-1837, Montreuil, 2019, n° 25 P, repr. p. 26. Sur le processus de collaboration par morceaux, voir texte p. 42, sur le sujet p. 27-31

Catalogue Note

Only recently has Marguerite Gérard’s name re-emerged from the long shadow cast by her brother-in-law, Jean-Honoré Fragonard. It took a lengthy and patient process of rehabilitation before she at last found her well-deserved place in the history of French painting between the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century.

The gradual reconstruction of her œuvre, thanks to the work of Sally Welles-Robertson, Jean-Pierre Cuzin and more recently Carole Blumenfeld, has allowed us to rediscover this major female artist.

Born in 1761, Marguerite Gérard left Grasse in 1775 for Paris, where she joined her sister Marie-Anne, who had married Fragonard. He quickly took his sister-in-law under his wing and trained her, at first in drawing and printmaking. In 1778 she put her name to her first print, The Swaddled Cat. But her talent as a painter grew rapidly and before long she was able to collaborate with Fragonard himself, contributing to varying degrees to paintings that they produced together.

Meanwhile, her own individual artistic style evolved, soon becoming distinct from her brother-in-law’s art. She developed her own themes and idioms, which assured her success far into the early decades of the nineteenth century.

The Interesting Student was the subject of a well-known 1787 engraving by Géraud Vidal (1742-1801; fig. 1) and numerous copies of it exist. The painting features one of the young Marguerite Gérard’s most accomplished compositions – if not the most accomplished, despite coming so early in the artist’s career. In later years she rarely achieved such felicity in her composition and such refinement in her technique.

Marguerite drew inspiration from various sources for this painting, but her principal influence was the Dutch painting of the Golden Age, especially that of the fijnschilders, the painters of everyday life and intimate interiors, admired for their extremely precise and detailed pictorial technique, as well as for their almost obsessively illusionistic rendering of textiles and surfaces. Emulating the development of her brother-in-law’s art in the years 1770 -1780, Marguerite Gérard turned her gaze towards painters such as Gerard ter Borch, Gabriel Metsu and Frans van Mieris the Elder, drawing from their examples her delicate and precise technique and her taste for interior scenes. Along with Louis-Léopold Boilly, her exact contemporary, she was one of the first to encourage the fashion for such themes.  

Marguerite was only twenty-six years old when she painted The Interesting Student, her first major canvas, but in it she demonstrated that she had completely mastered her pictorial technique. The delicate treatment of fabrics, the fluidity of their folds and the lustre of the young woman’s satin dress, as well as the rendering of surfaces and the shine of the metal, are all executed with the most perfect eye for detail. The composition is enriched by the dominating presence of a profusion of artworks – sculptures, prints, paintings – and objects of domestic life: from the metal sphere at the bottom left of the canvas (to which we will return) to the two statuettes on the table, from the young woman’s hat casually resting on the sculptural group to the stand on which it is placed. Many of these elements can be found in the artist’s later works, for example the three-legged table on which the sculpture rests. This interesting detail (fig. 2), showing Two Cupids Fighting Over a Heart (or perhaps Love and Friendship, according to an old sale catalogue) reprises a composition that was celebrated in its time, long considered to be the invention of Falconet, but in reality attributable to the brothers Nicolas and Joseph Broche (see G. Scherf, op. cit., note 20 p. 44).

The title of the work, The Interesting Student, is known from the inscription on Vidal’s engraving. Although it might have been tempting to see Marguerite Gérard herself in the young woman absorbed in contemplating a print, it seems that such a hypothesis must be discarded: Vidal dedicates his print to ‘Mlle Chéreau’, and the monogram ‘AC’ appears in the centre of the inscription, surrounded by a wreath of flowers. These elements suggest that the young woman portrayed is in fact Anne Louise Chéreau, born in 1771 and herself from a family of engravers and print publishers.

At first sight, the painting’s subject matter is very simple, but it is possible that it conceals a deeper meaning. Through its title, The Interesting Student, through the elements disposed in the room, and through the metal sphere at the bottom left, Marguerite Gérard appears to be presenting the viewer with a puzzle that must be decoded. The print that Anne Louise Chéreau is holding is not insignificant: it is a print of Fragonard’s Fountain of Love, executed by Regnault in 1785 (fig. 3), which was widely admired. The theme of love is also evoked in the sculptural group by the Broche brothers. Finally, the sphere of polished steel placed on the ground on top of a crumpled print, whose model is difficult to identify (fig. 4), acts as a mirror in the painting, reflecting an image of the rest of the room and four figures including Marguerite Gérard herself, sitting at her easel with her master and mentor Fragonard behind her. The remaining two figures have been identified as Marie Anne Fragonard and Henri Gérard or perhaps the engraver Géraud Vidal himself.

Looking beyond its purely technical qualities, The Interesting Student once again raises the question of the artistic relationship between Marguerite Gérard and her brother-in-law and master, Fragonard. Leaving aside the possibility that has sometimes been suggested of an intimate relationship between the master and his charming young sister-in-law, the theory that the two painters collaborated on many of Marguerite’s early paintings has frequently been proposed. It now seems to be accepted that Fragonard, in the first paintings produced by his young sister-in-law and pupil, must often have assisted with the design of their composition as well as supplying one or more details. In a mischievous vein, Fragonard was responsible for the white cat (which he had already added to an earlier painting by Gérard, The Angora Cat) teasing the dog lying on a stool covered in blue velvet. Is this perhaps an allusion to a marked complicity that went further than a simple artistic collaboration?