Galerie Brame & Lorenceau will include this painting in their forthcoming Fantin-Latour catalogue raisonné.
During his second trip to England in 1861, Fantin painted numerous quick sketches of flowers and fruit that delighted his hosts, Ruth and Edwin Edwards. Upon his return to Paris the artist planned to devote more time to painting still-lives, believing that they would prove to be more salable than his portraits. He hoped to establish a market for them that would insure a livelihood. It was a risky venture to undertake, for he had to contend with a traditional bias in the Salon that set still-life painting on a low rung of the hierarchy of artist's subjects, but he was encouraged by the acceptance of his still-lives in 1862 Royal Academy exhibition in London. Edwards acted as his agent, and in the following year the American expatriate painter James McNeill Whistler purchased several of his still-lives and commissioned others for his English clientele.
Despite his growing success in London, there was no response to the first still-life painting that he exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1866 and his plans for a French market failed to materialize. His reputation had spread quietly, however, among a small circle of fellow painters and critics in the Batignolles group associated with Edouard Manet. The critic Zacherie Astruc wrote in 1863: "In order to reveal this painter's talent in all its freshness, charm and strength, one must--after a thorough consideration of his large pictures turn to his flower paintings, so highly regarded in the art world. These are marvels of colour and artistic sensibility. They are as compelling as they are charming, in fact one may even call them moving. There are tonal rhythms, freshness, abandon, surprising vivacity. Their beauty captivates. This is nature with all that fleeting radiance that is the fate of flowers. Delicacy of expression being the essence of his art, Fantin seems to be the visual poet of flowers" (quoted in D. Druick and M Hoog, Fantin-Latour, exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1983, p. 114).
Fantin painted his still-lives as more than a practical means to a financial end; he was quick to appreciate that these efforts taught the artist "persistence before nature" (quoted in ibid.) and enabled him to understand more clearly the fleeting phenomena of light, color and form in the natural world. But it remained difficult to interest the Paris market in his still-lives, even after he achieved some success in the Salon of 1870. In 1872 the dealer Durand-Ruel bought two groups of still-lives, but lost interest soon after. After 1876 Fantin no longer submitted still-life paintings to the Salon, realizing that he would perforce remain dependent on the continuing success of his paintings in the English market. Edwards bought them outright, and resold them at a very profitable markup. Only for a brief period did Fantin arrange to collect a fifty-percent share on paintings sent to Edwards, but then reverted to his earlier arrangement as a worsening international economy depressed prices and demand, a situation that did turn around until the mid-1880s.
Edwin Edwards died in 1879, and his wife Ruth took his place as Fantin's dealer in England. She probably acquired the present painting a part of this arrangement shortly after it was painted. Fantin continued to send her the majority of his still-lives until 1887, when one of the artist's Paris collectors introduced him to Gustave Tempelaere. The latter helped the artist to finally make headway in the French market, and was so successful that by the mid-1890s that Fantin no longer needed his English sales, and ceased sending paintings to Mrs. Edwards.
A testament to the measure of Fantin's reputation in the early decades of the twentieth century is that Marcel Proust, in his novel Le Temps retrouvé--the final volume of his monumental A la recherche du temps perdu, published posthumously in 1927--described his fictional painter Elstir as "the artist who is cited by connoisseurs today as our leading flower-painter, superior to even Fantin-Latour" (trans. A. Mayor and T. Kilmartin, The Past Regained, London, 1981, p. 34). Proust could correctly assume that his readership would have been familiar with Fantin's stature as the pre-eminent still-life painter of his time.