Charles Hermans is best known for his rich and cosmopolitan displays of Parisian society. He studied first in Brussels under the neo-classical painter François-Joseph Navez and Louis Gallait. In Paris he joined the studio of Swiss artist Charles Gleyre who has taken over the studio of Paul Delaroche in 1843 and taught a number of remarkable young artists, including Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
The present lot calls to mind other works from the era. The setting is reminiscent of Gustave Caillebotte's L'Homme au balcon, Boulevard Haussmann. It presents the spectator with a capturing view of Paris but is also an intimate moment of a man lost in thought overlooking the bustling city below. In both compositions the duality of a balcony as a setting is unmistakable: the isolation and shelter of a bordered space on the one hand and the exposure of the open space beyond.
The central figure, in a rich and elaborate dress, also shows the strong ties between Hermans and contemporaries such as the French painter James Jacques Joseph Tissot. These artists had an obvious interest in depicting the elegant fashions of the day.
In 1880 Hermans entered a monumental painting at the Salon, Le bal masqué, depicting a ball at the Opera. It gives an energetic portrayal of the exuberant atmosphere of Parisian balls in the second half of the 19th Century. This painting was heralded as a boisterous and unrestrained rendering of the Opera Ball as Charles Hermans focuses on the sexual undertones, the flirtation between the young men dressed in white tie and the richly costumed women.
The present lot depicts a young woman watering her plants on her balcony. At first glance this is an innocent representation of an everyday scene. As in Le bal masqué Hermans's composition is not a two dimensional depiction of a mundane subject but a portrayal of the tension between a woman and a man in secret admiration, as revealed by the figure of a man in the background, partially obscured behind a curtain.