Description: signed and dated 1885 (lower right)
oil on canvas
Dimensions: 24 1/8 by 39 3/8 in.
61.2 by 100 cm.
Provenance: PROPERTY FROM HSBC'S CORPORATE ART COLLECTION
Sale; Christie's, New York, May 21, 1986, lot 122 (purchased by Edmond Safra for Republic National Bank)
Notes: Victor Gilbert's paintings depicting Les Halles in the 1880s are the visual counterparts to Emile Zola's written descriptions in Le Ventre de Paris, first published in 1873. This vast, multi-acre meat and produce market was built in north-central Paris under the Second Empire. No artist better captured Les Halles, with its colorful vendors hawking their wares, than Victor Gilbert. His accurate portrayal of this important Paris institution confirmed his reputation as one of the most important Naturalist painters of his generation. In fact, following the critical acclaim for Gilbert's 1884 Salon entry, which graphically depicted meat haulers moving large slabs of beef, the state purchased the painting for 1800 francs. As did Zola, Victor Gilbert recorded in great detail what he observed; he was known to have paid frequent visits to Les Halles.
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The present work shows a variety of wares for sale. Most prominent is the meat market with its displays of poultry and dead game located at the right. Close examination also reveals a giant pumpkin and a flower market, where a customer's hat is decorated with a selection of the morning's freshest blooms. But the emphasis here was really not on the labor of the workers, but rather on their leisure. Gilbert's primary intention was to capture the inhabitants of this world within a world taking a respite from a hard day of work. This is evidenced by the wine, empty glasses, hand of cards and the floor game which occupies the group in the distance.