Lot 413
  • 413


250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau
  • Les trois amis
  • signed Elizabeth Gardner (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 59 1/4 by 40 1/8 in.; 150.5 by 101.9 cm


Mrs. Gordon Woodbury, New Hampshire (by 1924) 
Private Collection, California (and sold, Phillips, New York, October 30, 1987, lot 105, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale 


Concord, New Hampshire Historical Society, November 1924 (lent by Mrs. Gordon Woodbury)


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is in very good condition. The canvas is lined. The cracking is slightly raised, but the paint layer is stable. There are no retouches in the background or in the faces or torsos of the figures. There are a couple of retouches to a crack in the left forearm of the boy, and retouching to a crack by the right knee of the trousers. There are a couple of small retouches in the right leg of the young girl. Three or four cracks have been retouched in the legs of the goat, and a few thin cracks in the chest have also been retouched. The lining could be replaced to address the slightly raised cracking, but the work can be hung as is.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

There are two works entitled Les trois amis by the American expatriate artist Elizabeth Jane Gardner. One is an early piece, submitted to the 1868 Paris Salon, depicting a young girl with a bird and a dog. The other, the present work, was finished in 1893, when the artist was at the height of her professional and artistic accomplishments. The date can be confirmed by a Braun photo (4103) that was taken in 1893, and also from a first-hand account of a family friend who visited Gardner’s studio in January 1894. "Miss G received me in the pleasantest way imaginable. She is charming and her atelier is one of the loveliest places I have been in Paris…

I saw another (work) she had just finished, it was sold and was awaiting the packing – a small boy was holding a cup of milk to the lips of a little girl probably his sister – while a goat – the source of the milk was nibbling at grass near by…"1

Arcadian scenes like this one, depicting peasantry in mid-nineteenth century costume, were very popular among wealthy American and European collectors, who by 1893 were placing orders for Gardner’s work before they left her easel. Indeed, her fame and financial success inspired many other women artists who came to Paris with similar aspirations.

In addition, Gardner’s personal and professional attachment to her husband William Bouguereau was instrumental in establishing her style and in marketing her work through their shared dealers. Gardner employed similar technique to Bouguereau’s in terms of brush stroke, line, glazes, colors and the framing of her subjects, raising humble figures to monumental status. Like her mentor, great attention was paid to the rendering of feet and hands, as their peasants were most often depicted barefoot, in an idealized pose and setting.

In Les trois amis, Gardner’s well-balanced Academic training is evident in the subject’s placement at the center of the composition, backed on one side by a shadowy forest and on the other by an open path to the horizon. The color palette is subdued, harmonious and tasteful. The brush strokes dissimulate the medium, attesting to a focus on craftsmanship.

The burgeoning class of American industrialists, who proudly displayed these works in their homes, cherished paintings such as Les trois amis which embraced ideals of innocence, generosity, faith and confidence in nature. Ironically, while industrialization was changing the landscapes of nineteenth century cities, these anecdotes of rustic, timeless escape offered Gardner’s clientele an idealized space of tranquility and reassurance.

1 Mary McLelland to the artist’s mother in Exeter NH, Paris, Jan. 28, 1894, Gardner Family Archives.

We are grateful to Charles Pearo for his assistance in cataloguing this work and for providing the note. Mr. Pearo is currently preparing the forthcoming Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau catalogue raisonné.