Grenoble 1836 - 1904 Buré
Henri Fantin-Latour painted sensitive portraits and subject pictures, but is chiefly renowned today for his outstanding flower still lifes, which were especially popular in England and America. He was born in Grenoble in 1836, the son of the portrait painter Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour and his Russian wife Helène de Naidenoff. Henri studied with his father, with Lecoq de Boisbaudran, and in Courbet’s studio in 1861. He copied works in the Louvre, gaining a lifelong respect for the European Old Master tradition, especially Titian’s use of colour and Chardin’s painterly still-lifes. Fantin met Manet in 1857 and exhibited at the 1863 Salon des Refusés, but eschewed the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874, preferring the Salon, where he exhibited from 1861 to 1899. Although on good terms with the Impressionists, he was wary of the excesses of the avant-garde.
In 1858 Fantin encountered Whistler and subsequently made four trips to England. On his second visit, in 1861, he was taught to etch by Whistler’s brother-in-law Seymour Haden and met Ruth and Edwin Edwards, who were to become Fantin’s agents in England, building up a market for his still-lifes in that country. Fantin executed a series of incisive self-portraits in the second half of the 1850s. From 1864 he produced a series of group portraits which serve as Fantin’s ‘professions of faith’ in contemporary art and culture. They depict writers and artists in works such as Studio in the Batignolles (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), shown at the Salon in 1870, which brings together Zola, Monet and Renoir in the studio of Manet.
Fantin’s flower still lifes combined harmony of composition and acute observation of the structure of plants with rich, painterly brushwork. He preferred to paint his blooms in the studio against a plain background which emphasized their tranquil, poetic beauty. Jacques-Emile Blanche wrote: ‘Fantin studied each flower, each petal, its grain, its tissue, as if it were a human face’. In 1876 he married his pupil Victoria Dubourg (1840-1926). The couple spent their summers at Victoria’s family home at Buré in Normandy, where the abundant garden inspired Fantin to more informal and lavish still lifes.
A lifelong music lover (his wife was a fine musician), Fantin was inspired by Berlioz and Wagner, whose lush Romanticism and complex, mythic themes provided subjects for the Symbolist aspect of his art. His lithographs of scenes from The Ring were reproduced in Adolphe Jullien’s biography Richard Wagner (1888). Henri Fantin-Latour died at Buré in 1904.