Please note the correct lot number in provenance:
John Phillip, London (commissioned from the artist, 1865); sale, Christie's, London, 31 May 1867, lot 93.
The freshness and verisimilitude of Henri Fantin-Latour's still-lifes set him apart from other artists of this genre in the second half of the nineteenth century. While following in the footsteps of Chardin and Vallayer-Coster, Fantin's innovative realistic treatment of this subject-matter established him as the master in this field. In his review of the 1889 Salon, Zola described his work, "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, Henri Fantin-Latour, New York, 1977, p. 37).
Fantin-Latour's extraordinary handling and attention to detail derives from his personal connection to his subject-matter. He gathered many of his flowers from the garden of his house at Buri, and combined different species, some freshly picked, others wilting, to emphasize the brevity of their existence. Michel Hoog further describes the artist's aim:
These are not 'pale flowers without scent' but living individual blossoms that Fantin painted in this summer bouquet...The idea of inventing non-existent species or reducing his bouquets to indistinct masses of colour would have been utterly foreign to him. Fantin did not like to paint 'an idea of a flower, not to be found in any bouquet', in the words of Mallarmé. Quite the contrary, Fantin individualized his 'models', stressing the 'inner life' that animates flowers and gives them that 'fragile' and 'changing beauty' that surpasses their mere ornamental value. Fantin here reflects a common heritage of poetic and popular sayings. It was customary to consider flowers the most 'beautiful' and varied wonders in creation, also the most ephemeral, and to ascribe to them votive and affective meaning: flowers made the most fitting gift for friend or lover, the best religious offering. In choosing flowers at the height of their bloom for a bouquet like this one and in arranging them with so much care, Fantin reveals that he shares the pervasive attitudes of his day, as well expressed by the platitudes of daily conversation and the songs of the street as by the writings of authors most careful to avoid such triteness--like Mallarmé or Huysmans, both acquaintances of Fantin at the turn of the century, the signal value attached to the world of flowers was amplified in the pantheism of Maeterlinck (L'intelligence des fleurs, 1909) just as it lent its form to art nouveau (M. Hoog, Fantin-Latour, exh. cat. Galeries Nationales de Grand Palais, Paris, November 1982-February 1983, p. 273).
The following two paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour were commissioned by the Royal Academician John Phillip. He and the collector Charles Waring had seen two similiar works commissioned by fellow artist Alfred Elmore, and each had requested two of the same size. Having taken on the commission for the four works, Fantin-Latour sent them to Elmore and asked his patrons to settle the matter of their distribution based upon their tastes. The present two works were considered the most desirable of the four, and thus became the cause of considerable wrangling amongst the men. Edwin Edwards, the artist's English agent, sealed the decison by writing a letter to the artist in April 1865 that Phillip was "more of a painter, more of an artist than the ordinary Academician" and he had been the first Academician to "understand, appreciate and buy from Whistler", having bought the latter's At the Piano (see fig. 1; letter from Edwards to Fantin, April 1865). Accordingly, Phillip received the present two works.
(fig. 1) James McNeil Whistler, At the Piano, 1858-1859.
The Taft Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio (Louise Taft Semple Bequest).
(fig. 2) Henri Fantin-Latour, Self-Portrait, 1867.
City of Manchester Art Galleries, England.
Property from a Private American Collector