[ Home: Virtual Museum: Individual Artists: Henri Fantin-Latour ]


Photo: Fantin-Latour, c. 1900

Henri Fantin-Latour was a French painter, best known for his group portraits and flower paintings. Although he was a contemporary of the impressionists, he practiced a more conservative style, which gave his work an almost photographic realism, and employed a shimmering, magical use of color. In his group portraits, he portrayed the many contemporary Parisian artists and writers who were his friends. His delicately realistic flower paintings, as well as his more stylized lithographs, strongly influenced later symbolist painters, such as Odilon Redon.

Both Whistler and Degas were among Fantin-Latour's friends. He was invited to England by Whistler and found a commercial outlet for his works there. His early paintings were realistic in character, but he later specialized in flower and fantasy pieces.

His portrait work in the early part of his career depicted many of his Impressionist friends, including Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Frederic Bazille, and others.

Fantin-Latour seems to escape classification within 19th century painting, a rare quality for an artist. Born in Grenoble to a society portraitist father who was his first teacher, he moved to Paris with his family while he was still a child. In addition to a classic apprenticeship which he began at the age of fifteen, he learned from the ancients at the Louvre, a lesson that he never forgot, remaining faithful his whole career to a traditional technique. Fantin-Latour soon made multiple trips to England, which allowed him to establish a clientele and to become friendly with English painters, notably Whistler, but also with the principal representatives of the preraphaelite movement popular at the time.

Henri Fantin-Latour was a fervent admirer and friend of the Impressionists, and like them was rejected by the official establishment. He remains an isolated personality. His first great paintings, Hommage a Delacroix reveals an early taste for psychological insight. Fantin's friendship with Manet and the future Impressionists was confirmed in Un atelier aux Batignolles (A Studio in les Batignolles), 1870, which in fact is a homage to Manet. The painter is portrayed in his studio, surrounded by his friends. The subject of the painting was accepted almost without contest and a medal at the Salon rewarded Fantin's talent. Un coin de table (Table Corner), 1872 is entirely centred on Verlaine and Rimbaud, who are intentionally isolated from a group of honourable but mediocre writers.

Fantin-Latour painted portraits of relatives such as his sister-in-law Charlotte Dubourg (1882) and still lifes - Fleurs et fruits (Flowers and Fruits), 1865. La Nuit (Night), depicts the unreal world suggested by Fantin's passion for the music of Schumann, Wagner and Berlioz, which he later developed in a series of lithographs. Alfred Stevens, James Tissot and Carolus-Duran developed an official bourgeois realism. Alfred Stevens, who was born in Brussels, became the painter of Parisian life under the Second Empire, a role he shared with high society portraitist James Tissot - Jeune femme en veste rouge - (Young Woman in a Red Jacket), 1864. The influence of Courbet may be seen in Carolus-Duran's Le convalescent (The Convalescent), 1860. La dame au gant (Lady with Glove), 1869, testifies to the artist's admiration for the colours, and techniques of Velasquez and Van Dyck. The latter painting was such a spectacular success that Carolus-Duran was inundated with commissions and fell back into facile mediocrity.

Henri Fantin-Latour is known for his luxurious flower pieces. He painted several group portraits that show his friendship with leading avant-garde artists. Homage to Delacroix, 1864, shows Fantin-Latour himself, with Baudelaire, Manet, Whistler, and others grouped round a portrait of Delacroix. A Studio at Batignolles, also called "Homage to Manet", 1870, shows Monet, Renoir, and others in Manet's studio.

In spite of his associations with such progressive artists, Fantin-Latour was a traditionalist. Much of his later career was devoted to lithography. He greatly admired Richard Wagner and did imaginative lithographs illustrating his music and that of other Romantic composers.

His debuts at the Salon were hardly promising, but Fantin-Latour remains famous mostly for having participated in the famous Salon des refusés of 1863, and for having subsequently become a faithful companion of the impressionists, even if he barely followed their lead.

In Vase aux pommes we see precisely this distance between the art of Fantin-Latour and that of his contemporaries in the impressionist movement. Through his simultaneously realistic and poetic construction, the painter takes up once again with the great tradition of classical still life, and more particularly with Dutch painting at its 17th century peak. It was circa 1872 that flowers became dominant as subjects in Fantin-Latour's works, the genre for which he was especially famous in England. The work, with its very traditional and carefully elaborated construction, owes much of its old-fashioned charm to the artist's smooth and enameled technique. The power emanating from the painting is reminiscent of Courbet's work, and the fact that the highest branch practically reaches outside of the composition lends the piece a remarkable dynamism. Additionally, the precise and detailed drawing style, joined with the refined palette dominated by somber tones, make this work an excellent example of Fantin-Latour's intimist and subtle art.

Additional Exhibits for Henri Fantin-Latour
Analysis: A Studio in the Batignolles Quarter  

Please direct all inquiries, corrections, and submissions to [email protected].