Urgent Museum Notice

Prelude to a Concert

Close up of Prelude to a Concert

A blonde, light-skinned woman in a white satin gown holds music and sits on a settee. Bright light accentuates the singer, casting the dark-haired woman standing behind her with a guitar into murky shadow. A cat crouches on a music-strewn table, staring at the pert lapdog below.

Marguerite Gérard, Prelude to a Concert, ca. 1810; Oil on canvas, 22 1/4 x 18 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Prelude to a Concert
Marguerite Gérard

By the early 1780s, Marguerite Gérard had produced many genre paintings featuring affluent women making music, taking lessons or, as here, rehearsing for informal concerts.

Inspired by 17th-century Dutch paintings, such scenes function on two levels. On one hand, they illustrate the expectation that young women of the upper classes were expected to be accomplished in various social arts, chiefly music. Yet recent scholarship has emphasized the traditional link between painted images of music making and physical love.

Here, the female singer is clad in a sumptuous white satin gown, attire often seen on Gérard’s female subjects. She pauses to gaze up at her male accompanist, perhaps in response to a romantic overture. The tension of an erotic narrative is further supported by the guitar, often compared to the female body; the dog, a traditional emblem of fidelity; and the cat, a symbol of sexual promiscuity.

The musical instrument shown in this painting is typical of European guitars from the 18th and 19th centuries. Smaller than the modern guitar, it has a flat bottom, a decorative rosette set into the sound hole, and only five strings (versus the now common six).

Artwork Details

  • Artist

    Marguerite Gérard
  • Title

    Prelude to a Concert
  • Date

    ca. 1810
  • Medium

    Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions

    22 1/4 x 18 3/4 in.
  • Donor Credit

    Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay
  • Photo Credit

    Lee Stalsworth
  • On Display