François Gérard, known as Baron Gérard (1770-1837)
A model and a muse, as well as a patroness and collector, Juliette Récamier was one of the most frequently painted women of her time. She and her husband, the banker Jacques-Rose Récamier, installed themselves in the Chaussée-d’Antin neighborhood and opted for modernity by convoking the most fashionable artists of the time to their private mansion on Rue du Mont-Blanc. She organized many festivities there and held a highly reputed salon, leading it with brio; her salon was the gathering place for the capital’s artists and intellectuals. Juliette Récamier was the epicenter of worldly life in the first decades of the 19th century.
Very conscious of her personal image, she controlled it thoroughly and ensured its proliferation by calling on the most well-known masters for her portrait (including David, Gérard, Chignard and Canova). In 1801, she ordered this portrait by François Gérard, which was very soon considered to be one of the painter’s masterpieces. He first planned to show her as a standing nude, but finally decided on this less daring composition. He painted her according to the fashion that socialites of the time fought over for their portraits: she is seated on an Antique chair, wearing a fashionable white dress in the Greek style that accentuates the body and wrapped in a brightly colored shawl. The way the work is executed brings out the delicate features and charm of Juliette Récamier, which were universally admired.
Madame Récamier was fully satisfied with her portrait and, before making a gift of it to Prince Augustus of Prussia in 1822, she had copies of it distributed through engravings. She paid very careful attention to the execution of the preparatory drawing for the engraving, as is revealed in her correspondence on this topic with François Gérard.