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Roses in a Bowl, 1883
|Artist||Fantin-Latour, Henri Ignace Jean Théodore||
“One side of Fantin’s art – his exquisite Flower Painting – we , in England, were the first to appreciate,” wrote the critic and art historian Frederick Wedmore in 1906. This he attributed not merely to a favourable press, but to the energies of “the interesting etcher” Edwin Edwards (1823-1879) and his wife, Elizabeth Ruth, “alert, enthusiastic, as well as influential,” who, for long years, were “of infinite service to [Fantin’s] name.” First introduced to the Edwardses in February or March of 1861 by Whistler's friend the English painter Matthew White Ridley (1836-1888), Fantin-Latour tapped the English market during the 1860s both with Whistler's assistance and in informal arrangement with Edwards. Not until June 1872 did Edwards become Fantin’s official agent in England. Thereafter, despite disagreements with him over prices and stratagem, the artist remained loyal to Edwards, and, after 1879, to his widow, until he finally severed all connection with the English market in January 1899. Yet for almost thirty years, Fantin had provided the Edwardses with a steady supply of flower paintings, which they placed in collections and exhibitions throughout the country; his choice of flowers and accessories was, in large part, dictated by them.
Hence the prodigious number of roses in Fantin’s oeuvre, a flower beloved of the Victorian public and in the painting of which, as a contemporary, Jacques-Emile Blanche, wrote, the artist had “no equal." Roses in a Bowl, most likely painted in the summer of 1883 at his wife's country home at Buré in Normandy, was precisely the sort of cabinet picture that appealed to this public. On a dark ledge that merges imperceptibly into the wall behind is placed a group of tea roses, set into a two-handled, footed vase—of a type that Fantin presumably favoured because they “count for nothing, and don't distract the attention to be paid to the flowers.” The receptacle may have been provided by the Edwardses themselves in accordance with English taste, but was used again by Fantin in the much grander Roses and Larkspur of 1885 (Glasgow University), where similar roses appear, similarly arranged, as well as in the following painting, Roses and Lilies.
Although varnish obscures some of the delicate handling here, the artist has achieved a rich, almost dramatic resonance as the deeply coloured flowers emerge from the penumbra to cast their glow into the surrounding shadows. With the artist's customary restraint, two leaves trail from the white rose on the right and touch the ledge; the vase and flowers leave long shadows, painted brown against brown, which give interest to the mottled background in this undifferentiated setting.Simple and restrained, Roses in a Bowl nonetheless looks back to two weighty artistic traditions. Recalling his own early work of the 1860s, Degas noted, “In our beginnings, Fantin, Whistler and I were all on the same road, the road from Holland.” Unlike Whistler and Degas, Fantin never strayed too far from the Dutch seventeenth century in his respect for the minor genre of flower painting. Blanche wrote eloquently on Fantin's flower painting, calling him “a grandchild of Chardin’s’—and, indeed, the effortless transformation of the foreground ledge into the background wall is a device that Fantin borrowed directly from the eighteenth-century master of still life. Although the rediscovery of Chardin in the middle of the nineteenth century was of considerable importance for realist still-life painters such as Francois Bonvin (1817-1887) and Philippe Rousseau (1816-1887), Fantin was less directly influenced by him. Yet if Chardin painted flowers rarely, one of his most accomplished followers, Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818), made them her speciality, and in their simple elegance and easy charm they are the true eighteenth-century ancestors of Fantin's peculiarly English genre.
|Institution||The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Medium||Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||29.8 x 41.6 cm|