VICTOR GABRIEL GILBERT (French, 1847-1933)
    The Fruit Seller
    Oil on canvas
    25-1/2 x 21-1/4 inches (64.8 x 54.0 cm)
    Signed lower left: Victor Gilbert

    Galerie Dominion, Montreal, Canada;
    Galerie Michael, Beverly Hills, California;
    Purchased by the present owner from the above.

    This painting is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Galerie Michael, Beverly Hills.

    Victor-Gabriel Gilbert, a painter of Parisian market scenes, was a key figure in later nineteenth-century French art who straddled the French Realist and Impressionist movements. Born in Paris on the eve of the 1848 "February" Revolution-an insurrection which had established the principle of the "right to work" (droit au travail), and its newly-established government had created "National Workshops" for the unemployed-Gilbert grew up in a city with a highly-charged political atmosphere of working-class assertion which, in fascinating ways, affected his art. Indeed, even the most conservative bastion of the French art community-the annual Salon exhibition system-was also affected by the populist call for reform by allowing more artists to introduce and exhibit new styles and subjects in their work. Gilbert eventually benefitted artistically from this shift as well.
    Gilbert showed an early natural ability for drawing, but due to his parents' strained financial circumstances, he was unable to afford tuition at the École des Beaux-Arts, and had to work as an artisan. From the age of thirteen he was apprenticed to Eugène Adam, a painter-decorator, while at night he took lessons with Pierre Levasseur at the École de la Ville de Paris, which was the only formal art training he ever received. By developing artistically outside the École des Beaux-Arts system, Gilbert ended up drawing inspiration from the urban world around him, and also grasping in an intuitive way the principles of good and pleasing design that would create attractive, commercially appealing imagery. Moreover, free from the constraints of a more rigid formal education, he was free to develop his own approach to even more radical styles like Realism. For instance, instead of following the lead of Realism's major proponents such as Courbet and Millet, who focused upon rural peasant life, Gilbert chose to paint the hard-working city-dwellers who sold fish and vegetables and flowers in the open air markets of Paris. He became the premier painter of Les Halles, an area in Paris that still exists today but which then was a center for street vendors and markets, a busy and bustling area of Paris.
    The present work by Gilbert, The Fruit Seller, is an important early example of the type of genre painting which earned the artist positive critical attention during the mid-1870s to circa 1880 when he first began exhibiting. Interestingly, Gilbert presented the market stall as a nocturne, which serves to stress a number of thematic concerns. Of course working at night underscores the labor associated with being a market merchant, and since the moon is high in the sky, Gilbert's scene is probably taking place around midnight. The spots of illumination from the gas lamp in the middle distance and the oil lamp hanging in front of the fruit seller herself highlight salient features of the composition. The gas lamp shows the tunnel of apartment buildings with their faceless windows receding into the distance, underscoring the potential for anonymity and alienation in a place that is, conversely, teeming with people. The oil lamp with the tilted shade illuminates the transaction between the buyers (a woman and young girl) and the stolid fruit seller who is holding an apple. None of the figures' glances meet. Instead the focus seems to be upon the raised hand of the fruit seller who is weighing a group of apples on the table in front of her. Is the apple in her hand one she is about to place on the scale, or is she removing it from the scale as one apple too many? The scales are not completely in balance, and probably neither are the social situations of buyer and seller. The woman with the market basket tilts it forward toward the scales to eventually receive the fruit while the young girl stands back somewhat, hands behind her, watching.
    The composition is notably devoid of any saccharine or sentimentality, which separates it from the work of many other French artists of the same period. Additionally, the darker palette, the lack of eye contact among the figures, and between figures and the viewer, place this painting and other early Realist efforts by Victor Gilbert much more closely within the realm of Naturalist literature of writers such as Emile Zola-a connection noted by Gabriel Weisberg in The Realist Tradition: French Painting and Drawing 1830-1900, ex. cat., The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1980, pp. 177-221.
    Gilbert had created a niche for himself with market scenes and for his work in the realistic depiction of the aspects of Parisian life, becoming popular not only with the public but also with the State which bought examples of his work from the Salons. As his style progressed, Gilbert began to embrace the higher-keyed palette of the Impressionists as well as their bourgeois subject matter. Gilbert became a close friend of Pierre Martin, who owned an art shop on the rue Lafitte, and who was an important supporter of the Impressionist movement. As Martin had secured paintings by Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin, he also acquired works by Victor Gilbert. It was through this support and recognition that Gilbert was able to give up his work as a decorator and devote his time to painting the daily street markets, vendors, cafe scenes and views of Paris. In 1987, he was awarded a knighthood of the Legion d'honneur. Today his paintings are in many distinguished private and public collections including museums in Bayeux, Besançon, Bordeaux, Dieppe, Le Havre, Lille, Liége, Nice, Paris, and Strasbourg.

    Condition Report*:

    Original canvas; very minor frame accretions along extreme left edge; appears to be tiny surface abrasion in tree foliage above nearest tent at right; does not appear to be evidence of in-painting under UV exam. Framed Dimensions 33.5 X 29 Inches

    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    June, 2013
    15th Saturday
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