Born in Paris in 1847, Victor Gilbert's natural ability as an artist was recognized early, but his family lacked the financial resources to send the young man to the École des Beaux-Arts. Rather than enrolling in the École, Gilbert was apprenticed to Eugene Adam as an artisan painter and decorator. His only formal education was evening classes with Pierre Levasseur at the École de la ville de Paris. Perhaps it was his early immersion into la vie quotidienne that formed the basis for his later choices of subject matter for his art, that of the markets and streets of Paris.
Despite his lack of formal training, Gilbert's admissions to the Paris Salons of 1873 and 1874 were very well-received by audiences and critics alike. At this time he was supported by the dealer Paul Martin, who was an important proponent of the Impressionist movement. Gilbert emerged in the early 1880s as the primary Realist painter to record the French marketplace. His oeuvre is punctuated with very large canvases depicting the various sections of the largest marketplace in Paris, Les Halles.
Gabriel Weisberg writes, 'Since Gilbert was familiar with Naturalist literature, specifically the novels of Emile Zola, he was aware of the author's view of les Halles as a symbol of the dynamism and energy of Paris' (G. Weisberg, The Realist Tradition, Cleveland, 1980, p. 217).
In the present painting, Gilbert explores the flower market of Paris. Le marché des fleurs is a virtuoso performance executed in a symphonic harmony of color and composition. The artist has brought his figures up close to the picture plane by defining the background with the architecture and trees and not allowing the viewer a glimpse of the sky. In this way, he makes the flower market a concrete space, a space which holds a microcosm of Parisian society
At the center of the composition, two elegant, fashionable ladies are deliberating over their choices for the day. The splashes of red in the umbrella, shawl, belt and hat set against the more neutral colors of the two ladies' dresses draw the viewer immediately into the center of the composition. This is further emphasized by the curving diagonal of the colorful bunches of flowers swaddled in their white paper which create almost an arrow that points to the two central figures. Around them swirl all types from the French capital; the flower sellers themselves, maids on errands for their mistresses, gentlemen in derby hats and laborers.
In Le marché des fleurs, it is evident that Gilbert was influenced by his contact with the Impressionist artists, particularly Pierre Auguste Renoir.
We would like to thank Mr. Noé Willer for confirming the authenticity of this work which will be included in his forthcoming Gilbert catalogue raisonné.