Victor Gilbert was considered the foremost painter of the place de marché during the final decades of the 19th century. Gilbert came from a family of modest means who lacked the financial resources to send the young man to the École des Beaux-Arts and he was apprenticed to Eugène Adam as an artisan painter and decorator. His only formal artistic education was evening classes with Pierre Levasseur at the École de la ville de Paris. Despite his lack of formal training, Gilbert’s admissions to the Salons of 1873 and 1874 were well received by audiences and critics alike. He was represented at this time by the dealer Paul Martin, who was also an early advocate of the artists of the budding Impressionist movement.
By the middle of the 19th century, there was a proliferation of daily markets throughout the French capital which were needed to both feed the growing city and cater to the whims of the growing middle and upper classes. Fresh fruits, vegetables and especially flowers flowed daily into Paris to please the tastes of its inhabitants. Many of Gilbert's compositions capture the hustle and bustle of the largest such marketplace in Paris, Les Halles.
At the Flower Market, in contrast to many of Gilbert’s compositions, is set in one of the smaller flower stalls in the French capital. In the center of the composition, an elegant young lady deliberates over her choices for the day, testing the fragrance of pink roses, watched and perhaps encouraged by the stall’s proprietor. To the right and set on the ground are neatly arranged bright bouquets wrapped in white paper to set off their brilliant colors. Pots of brilliant red geraniums dot the foreground, while a small vegetable stand defines the background to the left. This vibrant image is enhanced by Gilbert’s virtuoso technique, realistic sense of detail and close observation of nature. In At the Flower Market, Gilbert beckons the viewer to enter a time gone by, where the fragrance of flowers still lingers.
We are grateful to Noé Willer and Emilie Charmetant for confirming the authenticity of this work.