Brame et Lorenceau will include this work in their forthcoming Fantin-Latour catalogue raisonné des peintures et pastels.
Radiating a contemplative stillness and calm, Fantin-Latour's Narcisses, tulipes et pensées was painted in 1878, which is often considered the vintage pinnacle for his pictures of flowers. The gentle light that surrounds the flowers that have been so painstakingly rendered in this still life have a Chardin-like atmosphere that is engaging and absorbing, well meriting the words of Emile Zola, written on the occasion of the Salon in 1880, "The canvases of M. Fantin-Latour do not assault your eyes, they do not leap at you from the walls. They must be looked at for a length of time in order to penetrate them, and their conscientiousness, their simple truth you take these in entirely, and then you return" (quoted in E. Lucie-Smith, Fantin-Latour, London, 1977, p. 37).
It was only four years earlier that Fantin-Latour had married his fellow painter Victoria Dubourg, who had a family property at Buré in Lower Normandy. It was there that Fantin-Latour would retire during the summer, escaping the heat and bustle of the French capital, and it was there that he executed many of his flower paintings, using specimens from the prevalent gardens, increasingly exploring with palpable fascination a theme and subject that had already gained a central position in his oeuvre. Importantly, in creating pictures such as Narcisses, tulipes et pensées, he showed that he was looking not only to the heritage of the flower as a theme for a still life, but also to the advances made by some of his friends and colleagues in the Parisian art scene of the time. In this work, the composition is deliberately lent a spontaneity by the complex framing of the plants, which are cropped in the foreground, recalling the photographic advances that were so key to some of the freshness and vivacity of the Impressionists during the same period.
Still-life painting was uniquely important to Fantin, not only due to the financial security it provided him, but also because it was a means to understand the achievement of great masters of the past, like Velasquez and Rembrandt whom he greatly admired and had copied in the Louvre. "Fantin's flower pieces have a special quality which is well summed up in Jacques-Emile Blanche's description of them: ?Fantin studied each flower, its grain, its tissue, as if it were a human face.? But this is true with one proviso: he looked at flowers, as he did at faces, with no perceptions. His belief, academic in origin, that technique in painting was separable from the subject to which the artist applied it, enabled him to see the blooms he painted not as botanical specimens, but as things which, though not necessarily significant in themselves, would generate significant art upon the canvas" (op.cit., pp. 22-23).