Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
This magnificent group portrait depicts the beautiful widow and five children of Jean Lannes, one of Napoleon's greatest and favorite generals. The imposing size of the painting—8.5 feet high—documents the historic importance of the family, who pose next to the monumental statue of Lannes. Baron Gérard's masterly achievement overwhelms with its superb formal qualities, its outstanding painterly refinement, and the accessibility of its subject matter.
Napoleon, who bestowed the title of Duke of Montebello on Lannes, may have encouraged the marriage between his ambitious young general and Louise-Antoinette-Scholastique Guéhéneuc, a renowned beauty of noble descent. The couple belonged to the inner circle of the court of Napoleon. After Lannes, a popular hero, was killed on the battlefield in 1809, the duchess continued to be a favorite at court. But in 1814, the year this painting was commissioned, she started to withdraw, devoting herself principally to her five children. Ernest, the boy with the rackets, is the direct ancestor of Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.