Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

Home > Catalogue > Browse > La Mère Gérard (1) <<   >>

La Mère Gérard (1)

La Mère Gérard (1) was probably started in 1858. 1

1858: According to Whistler's biographers, the Pennells, Whistler painted Mère Gérard on a country outing, 'in the course of the afternoon, the portrait was a success, and he promised it to her, but first took it back to the studio to finish. Then he fell ill and was sent to England.' 2 It could have been started in the autumn of 1858, before he left Paris on 6 November to convalesce in London with Deborah Delano Haden (1825-1908) and Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) and family. 3

La Mère Gérard (1), Colby College Museum of Art
La Mère Gérard (1), Colby College Museum of Art

1859: On 12 January 1859 Whistler returned to Paris. 4 The Pennells said that the portrait was completed after Whistler's return to Paris, and reported Whistler as saying that this was the first original picture he painted in Paris. 5 It may be the portrait that Whistler described in a letter to Deborah Haden after returning to Paris: 'I have very nearly finished a painting of a head from life, which is likely to be the best thing I have yet done.' 6

Thomas Armstrong (1832-1911) said that he saw it on exhibition in the studio of the artist, François Bonvin (1817-1887), 189 rue St-Jacques, Paris, in May 1859, and that he thought it was 'the earliest exhibited picture by Whistler, and I think it was also the earliest original work in oil.' 7


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 26).

2: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 57.

3: Passport, GUL MS Whistler NB10.

4: Ibid.

5: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, pp. 57, 73. Pennell 1921C [more], p. 78.

6: [12/30 January 1859], GUW #01913.

7: Lamont 1912 [more], pp. 179, 190.

Last updated: 18th April 2021 by Margaret