Dans le Parc
Maker: Jean-Baptiste Hilair , French, 1753 - after 1822
Date: ca. 1795
Dimensions: 12 3/8 x 16 1/4 in. (31.4 x 41.3 cm.)
Medium: oil on panel
Credit Line: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Adele S. Browning Memorial Collection, gift of Mildred Browning Green and Honorable Lucius Peyton Green
Object Number: 78.20.9A
Label Text: Jean-Baptiste Hilair, a student of the genre painter Jean-Baptiste Le Prince (1734-1781), specialized in paintings of contemporary Parisian social life in the parks, gardens, and public places of the French capital. As a young man, he traveled to the Near East with the comte de Choiseul-Gouffier (1752-1817), and he illustrated several volumes of Choiseul-Goffier's Voyage en Grèce (1782-1809), but on returning to Paris he turned his attention to the everyday leisure of Parisians, most often women and children, as they enjoyed the public spaces of the city, such as the Luxembourg Gardens, the Jardin des Plantes, and the Parc Monceau. These two paintings appear to be set in the Parc Monceau, a large and elaborate garden built in the 1770s and 1780s by the famous writer and designer Louis de Carmontelle (1717-1806) for Louis-Philippe, the duc d'Orleans (1747-1793), in which there are many fanciful structures or follies that mimic gothic ruins, pyramids, and windmills. After the Revolution, the Parc Monceau became a public garden, and Hilair shows two views of middle- and working-class Parisians interacting in this newly accessible space. In Dans le Parc, Hilair includes a glimpse of a classicizing rotunda that stood at the northern edge of the park. This pavilion was one of the customs houses designed in the 1780s by Charles-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806) to monitor Paris's new tariff borders. Ledoux's structures, some of which still stand, would have been among the most recognizable contemporary architecture in Paris of the 1780s and 1790s. The other features of the setting-a large sculpture of a female allegorical figure and the corner of a classical façade with Corinthian columns-appear to be stock motifs, and Hilair also used them in a 1795 watercolor of women picking grapes. The Huntington pendants are not dated, but must have been painted around the same time. The emphasis in this canvas is on the group of women in the foreground, whose elegant dresses distinguish them from the working class figures at left and right. The women negotiate the purchase of a nosegay of flowers from the seated vendor while the young son of one of the women teases a leaping dog. This child is shown in historical costume, with a wide lace collar and plumed hat, reminding us of the taste for fancy dress that was popular among the upper classes and nobility of the late eighteenth century. The scenery in the pendant, Dans le Jardin, cannot immediately be identified with any specific landscape in the Parc Monceau, and the architecture and landscape are relatively generic. This canvas offers a vignette of three seated women listening to a young man reading aloud from a book, while one woman turns around to admire the pas de deux of a young girl and a dog, dancing together to the playing of a fourth woman at right. A second man observes from his position on a rock at the far right, while another mother and child stand on the far bank of the pond. The scene is one of casual intimacy, an everyday view of what appears to be an extended family group taking its leisure out of doors.