Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña was born in 1807 in Bordeaux, France. His parents, Spanish political refugees of the Peninsular Wars died early and he at the age of ten, he entered the household of a pastor in Bellevue, near Paris. At thirteen, he suffered from an infection caused by an insect sting or snakebite necessitating the amputation of his left leg. Nevertheless, his artistic career was active and prolific.
In 1823/5 Diaz was apprenticed as a colorist in Arsene Gillet’s Paris porcelain factory where he met Gillet’s nephew, the painter Jules Dupré who became a lifelong friend. He also befriended the artists Auguste Raffet, Louis Cabat, and Constant Troyon. In the late 1820s, he left his apprenticeship and embarked on a course of independent study. He studied old masters and the contemporary Neo-classicists in the Louvre and came under the tutelage of Francois Souchon. Also at this time, he developed friendships with Honore Daumier, Theodore Rousseau, and Paul Huet.
Diaz exhibited at the Salon from 1831 and also began to spend much time in the Forest of Fontainebleau forming close associations with the other landscape painters of what came to be known as the Barbizon School. His studies of the forest were painted with a characteristic speed and fluency, giving him a reputation for productivity and commercial success. Awarded a first-class medal at the Salon of 1848, Diaz was appointed chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1851.
After 1859, Diaz ceased to exhibit at the Salon. In his later years he lived in Barbizon and concentrated on dramatically charged and realistically rendered landscapes. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, he sought refuge in Brussels. He died in 1876, aged sixty-eight, at the Mediterranean resort of Mentone.
Our painting, Concert in the Garden, is a charming scene that retains the trademark characteristics of the Barbizon school, though it is a bit different in subject matter than the landscapes Diaz is more widely known for. Here the viewer is presented with a an intimate garden setting with a bright and lively overall tone. A woman placed at the center focal point strums a stringed instrument as she turns to the female companion seated to her right. A small girl looks up at the instrument in wonder, perhaps reaching out to try to touch the strings. The woman standing at far right crosses her arms, looking down tenderly at the child below her. Though their faces may have a hazy quality, it is easy to sense the care between all these women. A palette of rich blues and pinks runs throughout the composition, the colors of the women’s dresses mirroring those of the sky and flowers in the background. These colors stand out against the deep browns and mossy greens of the trees and grass that make up part of the foreground and upper left portion of this piece. This is truly a lovely painting.