"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.
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