The Shepherd David
Be the first to vote…
lheard's picture


The Shepherd David may be Gardner’s most popular piece, but it’s certainly not her cheeriest.

The macabre image of a dead lion, slaughtered by David to protect his flock, distances this solemn tableau from Gardner’s more marketable pieces. Ever the businesswoman, Gardner herself admitted that The Shepherd David was too dour to gain her much of a profit. Still, Gardner indulged her creative side, intrigued by an unconventional model: a lion corpse.

Influenced by her friend and idol Rosa Bonheur, whose gift for animal portraiture is visible in Sheep by the Sea and The Horse Fair, Gardner looked to the animal kingdom for inspiration. She took up a drawing class under sculptor Antoine Barye at the Paris Botanical Gardens and Zoo, a progressive environment in which female artists received the same resources and attention as their male counterparts. Upon visiting these classes, Auguste Rodin was disconcerted, remarking that he was “uncomfortable in the presence of amateurs and Women.” Undeterred by the opinions of sexist sculptors, Gardner returned time and time again to sketch one particular lion at the zoo for The Shepherd David. When her prized model passed away, she asked that its corpse be transported to her studio. Although the carcass can’t have been pleasant company, Gardner’s efforts paid off; she created one of her foremost masterpieces, a monumental religious tableau.

Once complete, The Shepherd David was purchased by Mrs. Mary Copely Thaw. Mary’s deceased husband was the businessman William Thaw, and she was as ferocious as she was wealthy. She managed the family money with an iron will, using frequent payouts and bribes to defend the Shaw reputation against the constant infractions of her son, Harry. Harry was renowned for his playboy lifestyle, using hundred dollar bills to light his cigars. He enjoyed chucking things at servants’ heads, once chased a cabbie with a gun, and assaulted his wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit. Eleven years after his mother purchased The Shepherd David, Harry would outdo his previous transgressions, murdering renowned architect Stanford White in a theater. During the highly publicized trial, White’s rape of Nesbit would come to light, along with the abuse she suffered from Harry.




  1. Birmingham, Stephen. “Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White.” The New York Times. October 10, 1976. Accessed January 1, 2018.
  2. Pearo, Charles. "Elizabeth Jane Gardner and the American Colony in Paris: “Making Hay While the Sun Shines” in the Business of Art." Winterthur Portfolio 43, no. 4 (2009): 275-312. doi:10.1086/647970.