Girl Peeling Potatoes
Set in a humble interior, this young girl, perhaps a maid, contemplates an ornate birdcage containing a vibrant yellow canary as she works. The caged bird is symbolic of withheld or virtuous love; the girl’s thoughtful look may suggest she is considering her sacrifice of passion in order to remain virtuous and dutiful. A related painting by Lucien Gérard showed a seated maid, with dirty plates of seafood at her feet, leaning over to release a bird from its cage which was overgrown with ivy. Each of these elements combine to present a moralising narrative on the unfortunate fate that awaits those who leave the virtuous path.
Gérard was Belgian but information about him remains elusive. He is known for painting animals and scenes of everyday life. Girl Peeling Potatoes testifies to the artist’s considerable ability as a painter of small ‘moralising’ scenes in the style of Dutch 17th century masters such as Jan Steen. Gérard’s style appears above all to be indebted to his successful contemporary Ernest Meissonier, a Frenchman who painted scenes of domestic life.