Standing nearly 6 feet high, this spectacular oil on canvas by the French painter Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli is impressive in both provenance and artistry. Entitled The Peacock Garden, it is one of a series of six panels ordered by Empress Eugenie for the Palais des Tuileries. The lady in white represents the Empress herself, while Monticelli boldly paints himself into the composition as the figure of the musician. A similar work painted by Monticelli for the Empress is in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
The artist himself occupies an important place in the history of French art, and not only as a painter whose work was beloved by an empress. His style can and has been viewed as a mere holdover of the romanticism of the Rococo age. Yet, his works, the present oil included, display a painterly freedom that is not unlike the work of the Impressionists. In fact, Monticelli is known to have exhibited with the avant-garde group on occasion and developed a friendship with the great Camille Pissarro. Most interesting, he also had a profound impact on a young Vincent van Gogh, who encountered his work in Paris in 1886. Van Gogh immediately adopted a brighter palette and a bolder attack, and later remarked, "I sometimes think I am really continuing that man." Van Gogh and his brother Theo would later go on to publish the first book about Monticelli.
The Peacock Garden, therefore, reflects both the romance of a bygone era and a significant stepping stone into a new modern style. Not only did it hang in one of the most important palaces in Europe, but it also represents a formative influence on one of the greatest painters of the late 19th century. Few works possess such a rich history; to find one that is also monumental in size and exceptionally beautiful is a rarity.
Born in Marseille in 1824, Adolphe Monticelli learned his craft at the École Municipale de Dessin in Marseille, where he studied from 1842 until 1846. He moved briefly to Paris to continue his studies, first entering the studio of Paul Delaroche and later falling under the influence of Narcisse Diaz, a member of the Barbizon school. Monticelli developed a distinctive, highly Romantic style that was somewhat inspired by the courtly subjects of Antoine Watteau. After 1870, he returned to Marseille, where he was based for the remainder of his career. In addition to the works that he created for Empress Eugenie, who was his most high-profile client, he also created landscapes and still lifes together with Paul Cézanne that reflected his interest in the Impressionist style. Today his works can be found in collections around the world, including the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool), the Dallas Museum of Art, the São Paulo Museum of Art and others.
Canvas: 67 1/4” high x 39” wide
Frame: 75 5/8" high x 48 1/4" wide
Painted to order for the Empress Eugenie, circa 1860
Catholina Lambert, Paterson, New Jersey, 1900
American Art Association, New York, 1915
Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts, 1915
Warren Adelson, 1978
M.S. Rau, New Orleans, 2020
Second Exhibition of Paintings by Adolphe Monticelli, Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts, March 17- April 2, 1921
Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli 1824-1886, George Walter Vincent Smith Art Gallery, Springfield, Massachusetts, November 2- 23, 1941
Detroit Institute of Art, Michigan
Hillyer Art Gallery, Northampton, Massachusetts
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota
Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Fine Arts Society of San Diego, California
Brown University, Rhode Island
Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, Florida
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
Dallas Public Art Gallery, Texas
Joslyn Memorial, Omaha, Nebraska
Newport Art Association, Rhode Island
Valentine Museum, Richmond, Virginia
Monticelli: His Contemporaries, His Influence, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1978, by Aaron Sheon, p. 43, 171 (illustrated)