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Between and Mortarboard

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La Mère Gérard, one of the "Twelve Etchings from Nature," or the "French Set"

Accession Number

La Mère Gérard, one of the "Twelve Etchings from Nature," or the "French Set"

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
etching, printed in black ink on Japan paper, laid down on white wove plate paper

12 13/16 in x 9 3/4 in (32.54 cm x 24.77 cm)

Credit Line
Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker

Label copy
La Mère Gérard, from the French Set, or Twelve Etchings
from Nature
Etching on Japan paper
Fourth state of four (Kennedy 11)
Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker, 1954/1.319
Whistler’s early style of drawing reflected his increasing knowledge of Parisian popular illustration, such as lithographs and wood engravings by the artist Paul Gavarni (1804–1866). La Mère Gérard is indebted to Gavarni’s depictions of Parisians in local periodicals, which included full-length figures with a cursorily indicated background. In Whistler’s hands, such character studies never descend into caricature; this somewhat disturbed flower-seller is depicted with a psychological complexity that underscores her individuality rather than showing her as a type. Though from a bourgeois background, she had fallen on hard times and sold flowers at the door of the bal Bullier, a popular dancehall, one of whose dancers, Finette, was etched by Whistler.

Subject matter
La Mere Gérard was a flower-seller outside of the Bal bullier in Paris who was nearly blind and was considered mentally unstable. She was the subject of several early paintings as well as two etchings by Whistler and this depiction, while sharing formal conventions with popular illustration by artists such as Paul Gavarni, is full of close observation and sympathy that prevents the work from falling into a stereotype.

Physical Description
A woman in a hat and half-length jacket stands in bright sunlight in front of a wall. She stands at a slight angle to the viewer, holding a garment in her left hand and possibly a chain in her right hand; she looks up and to the right of the viewer. A dark shadow cast by her body against the wall partly obscures her left side.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

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women (female humans)

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