Galerie Brame et Lorenceau will include this painting in their
forthcoming Catalogue raisonné des peintures et pastels de
At the suggestion of James McNeill Whistler, Fantin first travelled to London in 1859. He frequently mixed with English artists who visited and worked in Paris, including Matthew White Ridley and Frederic Leighton. While in London Fantin met with Ridley who introduced him to Edwin Edwards, an etcher and collector who would subsequently become his close friend and a tireless agent on his behalf in Britain. During a second trip to London in 1861, Fantin visited Edwards in Sunbury, where he began a portrait of Edwards' wife Ruth. A small still-life that Fantin painted during his stay delighted his hosts (Mme Fantin-Latour, no. 179).
Fantin had been considering that he might concentrate more extensively on still-life and especially floral painting, which might prove more lucrative than portrait commissions and enable him to establish a market both in London and Paris that would provide a steady, reliable income. Fantin painted his flower-pieces, however, as more than a practical means to a financial end; he was quick to appreciate that these efforts taught the artist, as he stated, 'persistence before nature,' enabling him to understand the 'laws of harmony,' as well as the principles of 'arrangement, disposition, composition' that governed the appearance of visual phenomena and form in the natural world (quoted in D. Druick & M. Hoog, Fantin-Latour, exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1983, pp. 114 & 120).
Encouraged by the acceptance of two of his still-lifes in the annual Royal Academy exhibition of 1862 in London, Fantin proceeded with his plan, and his floral paintings soon began to attract considerable interest and eager buyers among British collectors. Edwards served as a go-between, and Whistler, who had purchased several of his still-lifes, also assisted in obtaining important commissions for Fantin among his English clientele, and for a while, from members of the wealthy Greek mercantile community in London.
Despite his growing success in London, there was no response to the first still-life painting that Fantin exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1866 and his plans for a French market failed to materialize at the time. 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 artisitic 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' (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1983, p. 114).
By the mid-1870s Fantin had despaired of winning due notice for his flower paintings in official Paris Salons, and an association with the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel lasted only a few years. Edwin and Ruth Edwards continued to act as his exclusive agents in England, and such was the desirability of his flower paintings there that Fantin no longer depended on arranged commissions and the accompanying requirements that determined the content of his compositions--he was free to paint as he wished, with reasonable certainty that his pictures would find eager buyers. 'Edwards sells what I paint,' Fantin wrote to his friend Otto Scholderer in 1871, 'I am able to live quietly... doing what I please, thanks to Edwards' (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1983, p. 256). He dispensed with complicated compositions best appreciated by other painters, preferring to work with simpler arrangements in which he was able to focus attention on the sensuous qualities of the blossoms themselves, as his collectors liked. He would eventually tire of doing flowers, but not during the period he painted the present picture; he wrote to Scholderer during the summer of 1879, 'I am painting flowers because one must take advantage of the moment, and this year I find the flowers more beautiful than ever' (quoted in ibid., p. 257).
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' (E. Lucie-Smith, Henri Fantin-Latour, New York, 1977, pp. 22-23).