Victor Gilbert died in 1935 at the age of 88 years. His long, prolific career spanned the greatest years of French 19th century painting and his subjects of children helped establish him as one of the most appealing artists of this genre during the Belle Epoque and well into the 20th century.
Gilbert was a self-taught artist. Unable to attend the Ecole des Beaux Arts because of financial constraints, he became an artisan at the age of thirteen and worked under Eugène Adam. During this period he was able to take evening classes with Père Levasseur at the Ecole de la Ville de Paris--perhaps his only formal artistic education. In 1873 he exhibited two still life paintings at the prestigious Salon des Artistes Français and the following year one of his entries was purchased from the exhibition by a private collector and his career was established. By the 1880s, Gilbert was a frequent contributor to the Salon and his 1880 picture A corner of the Fish Market: Morning was awarded a second-class medal and was purchased by the State. Gilbert's success at these Salons was particularly significant since competition to the annual exhibition was extremely selective and usually favored students who were enrolled in the state sponsored art schools. The art dealer Père Martin, who represented Jongkind and Boudin, was one of Gilbert's first patrons and subsidized him during these early years in exchange for some of his paintings.
Under Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann, Paris became a modern capital, transformed within two decades from a medieval city into a grand "city of light" with vast boulevards, numerous parks and gardens and grand architecture. Gilbert's paintings drew inspiration from the new urban landscape and were infused with the "energy and dynamism of contemporary Paris" (G. Weisberg, The Realist Tradition, p. 294). Gilbert's first paintings chronicled the street life of the neighborhood around Les Halles with its numerous flower and fish markets. The palette of his early paintings suggested the influence of Bonvin and the Realist painters, but over time the influence of the Impressionists caused him to become more interested in the effects of light and color, and to brighten his palette. His keen powers of observation are evident in the detail he captures in his pictures--the elegant parks and squares with their formal gardens, the colorful flowerstands that punctuated street corners, the bustling life of the grand boulevards and the amusing scenes of children at play. Despite the genuine affection for children which is demonstrated in his pictures, Gilbert did not have children of his own.
Gilbert was highly acclaimed for his work by his contemporaries. He was honored with a silver medal at the Paris World's Fair in 1889, elected a Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur in 1897, and awarded the acclaimed Prix de Bonnat in 1926. Among his commissions, were a series of paintings for the Hôtel de Ville in Paris and many of his pictures are in the collections of provincial museums throughout France. Gilbert was buried in the cemetery of Montmartre upon his death.
Paris was the uncontested center of the artworld at the turn of the century and drew collectors from all corners of the world. The collection of ten Gilberts that we are offering, has been privately owned since the 1940s. The paintings were collected by a diplomat who travelled annually to Paris and who purchased them with his own children in mind. The paintings were carefully packed in steamer trunks and brought back with him on various oceanliners to be hung in the rooms and hallways of the children's wing of his home in the United States.