Gérard was born in 1770 in Rome into the family of a French
clerk/officer of the French Embassy and an Italian mother. He grew
up in Rome and love for Italian art later influenced his own
paintings. Around 1782 the family came to Paris, where
François studied in the studio of the sculptor Augustin Pajou.
At the age of sixteen, Gérard entered the studio of
and soon became one of his favorite pupils,
specializing in portraits.
In 1790, after his
father's death, Gérard traveled to Italy, where he married his
mother's younger sister. After his mother's death, which followed
soon, he took care of his younger brother. At that time Gérard
mostly earned a living by illustrating the works of Racine and
He tried himself in
painting historical scenes, and won the competition to commemorate
the meeting of the National Assembly of 10 August 1792. His
first real success was at the Salon of 1795 for the work Belisarius
Carrying his Guide after he was Bitten by a Snake. The miniature
painter Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855), who repeatedly helped
Gérard, organized the sale of the work and in gratitude
Gérard painted the portrait of his friend with his small
daughter. The portrait launched Gérard’s career as a
portraitist, whose works were much sought-after because of their
naturalism and brilliant characterizations.
For historical and
mythological subjects, Gérard based his style on David's
reputation remained high through the Restoration period. In 1817 he
became court painter to Louis XVIII, and was ennobled in 1819. He
died in 1837 in Paris.