Anne Vallayer-Coster (Paris 1744-1818)
Anne Vallayer-Coster (Paris 1744-1818)

Bouquet of flowers in a gilt-bronze mounted vase

Anne Vallayer-Coster (Paris 1744-1818)
Bouquet of flowers in a gilt-bronze mounted vase
signed and dated 'Melle Vallayer 1776' (lower center)
oil on canvas, oval
21 5/8 x 18 1/8 in. (56 x 47 cm.)
Cesare Lanza, Geneva.
with Galerie Cailleux, Paris, by 1971, where acquired by the father of the present owner.
E. Schlumberge, "Anne Vallayer-Coster", Connaissance des Arts, March 1958, p. 68.
M. Roland Michel, Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1970, no. 65.
G. Schurr, "Art Dispatch from Europe", Connoisseur, CLXXVII, no. 714, August 1971, p. 307, fig. 5.
Apollo, XCIV, October 1971, p. 97, illustrated.
E. Kahng and M. Roland Michel, et al., Anne Vallayer-Coster, painter to the Court of Marie Antoinette, exhibition catalogue, Washington, Dallas, New York, 2002-03, p. 203, no. 43, illustrated.
Rotterdam, Musée Boymans, Quatre siècles de nature morte française, 1954, no. 61.
Paris, Galerie Cailleux, Autour du néoclassicisme, 1973, no. 48.
Paris, Galerie Cailleux, Eloge de l'ovale, 1975, no. 40.

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Lot Essay

With Vigée Le Brun and Adélaide Labille-Guiard, Anne Vallayer-Coster was among the most celebrated and successful female painters in France in the years leading up to the Revolution and, with Chardin and Oudry, indisputably one of the finest still life painters of the era. The daughter of a goldsmith who worked for the Gobelins tapestry manufactory, she grew up in artistic circles, but is not known to have had either a teacher or an official patron. Nevertheless, she was unanimously accepted into the Académie royale in 1770 with the submission of a pair of ambitious still lifes, The Attributes of Painting and The Allegory of Music (both Louvre, Paris). Remarks from the painter Johann-George Wille, who voted in favor of her admission, gives a sense of the enthusiasm with which she was received into that august body and the patronization she would encounter: “I was absolutely enchanted by the talent of this likable person, whom I saw for the first time and whose talent is truly that of a man perfected in this genre of painting representing still life.’ She exhibited for the first time in the Paris Salon the following year, achieving a critical and popular success that would never desert her. Diderot wrote of her first submissions in 1771, “Mlle. Vallayer astonishes us as much as she enchants us…No one of the French School can rival the strength of her colors…, nor her uncomplicated surface finish.” She would continue to exhibit at the Salon until 1817, a year before her death.

Although she painted some portraits – generally rather wooden and conventional, no match for the mastery of Vigée Le Brun as a portraitist – occasional genre subjects and a few miniatures, Vallayer-Coster achieved justifiable success as a still life painter; well over 100 still lifes are listed as surviving in the most recent catalogue raisonné of her works (2002) and some 450 were recorded in her lifetime. She was relentlessly compared to Chardin, often quite favorably, but she was no mere imitator and, in fact, the range of subject matter in her still lifes far exceeded that of the older master: while she painted dead game, musical instruments, military trophies and simple kitchen utensils, as did Chardin, she also expanded her repertoire to include porcelain tea services, cooked hams, steamed lobsters, shells and coral and, most especially, flowers. This last subject Chardin tackled only once (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), but Vallayer-Coster made it her particular specialty after 1775, and for the remainder of her career.

The present painting, which is dated 1776 and signed by the artist with her maiden name (she would marry Jean-Pierre-Silvestre Coster, a wealthy lawyer and member of Parliament, in 1781), is a superb example of the artist’s signature floral still lifes made shortly after she perfected the genre. This sumptuous composition depicts a beautiful blue Chinese porcelain vase is gilt bronze French mounts, on a marble tabletop. The vase holds a verdant and colorful bouquet of roses, peonies and other flowers in full bloom. The nest with eggs and the dead bird resting on the tabletop suggest the cycle of life – from gestation to death – in which the flowers share: vibrant and beautiful today, by tomorrow the blossoms will fade and die.

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