Victor Gabriel Gilbert was born in Paris in 1847, a year before the Realist innovations of Courbet would take the Paris Salons by storm. He studied for a short time with painter and lithographer Victor Adam and later with landscape painter Charles Busson, though he soon became established and recognized as painter of daily life, particularly prized for his Parisian scenes. Able to capture moments of connection, buyers and sellers negotiating to children playing, Gilbert developed a unique approach to Genre painting that kept his work in demand throughout his long career.
Gilbert particularly excelled at market scenes of fruit and vegetables sellers and his favorite subject matter were Les Halles, the central food market in Paris. Les Halles offered Gilbert a rich backdrop and exciting scenery where he would find colorful characters and stall holders bustling about their daily business. He was also a frequent visitor of the Parisian flower markets, again offering Gilbert charming scenes of flower girls surrounded by a mass of colors, generating ample, lively scenery of Parisian street life from the perspective of both sellers and buyers.
As an artist, Gilbert’s greatest stylistic debt is clearly to the Realist movement. In the 1850s and 1860s artists like Courbet and Manet sought to accurately portray the lives of the lower classes, a rejection of the Academic approach of the French art establishment. While this movement is widely considered to have ended with the Advent of Impressionism, Gilbert was one of the few figures that carried its legacy into the twentieth century, combining it with the more photographic impulses of Impressionism to create his own style.
With his particular niche of capturing vignettes of daily Parisian life established, Gilbert would hone his approach throughout his sixty-year career, developing from a gritty, realistic approach towards softer and more luxuriant treatments that still retained his psychological understanding. His subject matter would remain largely unchanged, evidence for the enduring popularity of his eye.
Gilbert exhibited regularly at the Salon throughout his life and was awarded a silver medal in 1889 and the Bonnat prize in 1926, towards the very end of his life. He was also named a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in 1897, and made a juror of the Salon, evidence of his ability to remain popular while still adopting some of the techniques of the Avant-Garde. A most successful artist, his work was sought in Europe as well as in North America, and he died a wealthy and respected figure in Paris in 1933.