Vallayer-Coster was a leading painter of portraits, still lifes and flower pictures at the court of Marie Antoinette. Attractive, modest and personable, Anne was never in need of commissions or collectors, among whom were included the landscape painter Claude-Joseph Vernet. Anne's success in France continued after the fall of the ancien régime, when two of her flower pictures were acquired by Josephine Bonaparte for her chateau at Malmaison. She exhibited continuously at the Salon from 1771 to 1817, one year before her death.
Anne was one of four daughters born to a goldsmith employed at the Royal Gobelins Manufactory in Paris. Raised in this artistic milieu, she studied drawing under Madeleine Basseporte, wife of the Neo-classical painter Joseph-Marie Vien, and painting under Vernet, who emphasized the importance of nature as the ultimate model. On 28 July 1770, at the age of twenty-six, Anne was agréée and reçue as a 'painter of flowers, fruits and animals' on the same day, a major accomplishment given the artist's gender, lack of formal training at the Academy and lack of ties to the royal family. Only two months after her nomination, the Academy officially restricted its positions for women artists to four. In 1779, through the intervention of Marie-Antoinette, Vallayer-Coster obtained a studio at the Louvre, becoming the first woman to have single lodging under the Grand Gallery. Among her neighbors were Vernet, Greuze and Hubert Robert.
The present picture is dated 1781, the year of Anne's marriage to the prominent lawyer, Jean-Pierre Coster. The Queen herself signed the wedding contract at Versailles. Even though the artist did not begin exhibiting flower pictures until 1775, the genre proved to be an ideal vehicle for her penchant for brilliant, vivid colors, as is evinced in the fiery reds and cool blues of the present work. The clinical precision of this floral still life, possibly achieved through the use of a magnifying glass, marks a decisive break from the rough, abbreviated manière heurtée of Chardin. This composition was reproduced in two Gobelin tapestries (formerly in the collection of Mme. André Loyer; and Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris; see Roland Michel, op. cit., nos. 429 and 431).