Born in Paris in 1847, Victor Gilbert was destined to become a carpenter like his father, but his health and natural drawing abilities pointed him in a different direction. His parents lacked the financial resources to send him to the École des Beaux-Art so instead, at the age of 13, Gilbert began an apprenticeship with the artisan painter and decorator Eugène Adam. He acquired his only formal education in the evening classes of Pierre Levasseur at the École de la ville de Paris.
The year 1873 marked Gilbert’s first appearance at the Salon with well received still-lifes painted with a dark palette in the distinctive manner of the realist painters, Bonvin and Ribot. Now established in the village of Montmartre, Gilbert quickly started to focus on his characteristic Paris street scenes featuring cafes and markets. In the early 1880s in particular, Gilbert emerged as the foremost realist painter of Les Halles, the main Parisian marketplace. His pictures became increasingly popular for their originality and still-life inspired depictions of the fruits and vegetables. Under the influence of the Impressionists, Gilbert’s palette also became brighter and softer while his compositions incorporated explorations of the effects of light.
In the 1870s, Gilbert developed a business relationship with dealer Père Martin, who was established on the rue Lafitte and had been representing young and promising artists such as Eugène Boudin, Johan Jongkind and the Impressionists. Gilbert finally reached financial stability, abandoned decorative painting and focused on easel painting. In 1880, he received his first medal at the Salon for his painting Un coin du marché au poisson, le matin, which was purchased by the State. Although he painted until his death in 1933, it is generally considered that the apex of his career started in 1875 and ended in 1889 with his silver medal at the Universal Exhibition.