Bouquet de pétunias doubles
Oil on canvas: 18(h) x 16.5(w) in /
45.7(h) x 41.9(w) cm
Signed and dated upper right: Fantin.88
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Grenoble 1836 – 1904 Buré
Bouquet de pétunias doubles
Signed and dated upper right: Fantin.88 Oil on canvas: 18 x 16 ½ in / 45.7 x 41.9 cm Frame size: 28 ½ x 26 ¾ in / 72.4 x 67.9 cm
Mrs Edwin Edwards, London
Mr Ernest Bonneau, acquired c.1900;
by descent in a French private collection
Madame Fantin-Latour, Catalogue de l’Oeuvre Complet de Henri Fantin-Latour (1849-1904), Paris 1911, p.140, no.1337
To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the paintings and pastels of Henri Fantin-Latour currently being prepared by Galerie Brame & Lorenceau
Fantin’s flower still lifes combined harmony of composition and acute observation of the structure of plants with rich, painterly brushwork. The painter-critic Jacques-Emile Blanche wrote: ‘Fantin studied each flower, each petal, its grain, its tissue, as if it were a human face’. He was especially renowned for his studies of roses, with their intricacy and subtle colours, but excelled in portraying a wide variety of flowers. In 1876 Fantin 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 still lifes.
This painting of 1888 explores the complex structure and sonorous hues of a bunch of double petunias in a plain glass vase, set against Fantin’s characteristic neutral background. The deep burgundy and white of the frilled petals has a sculptural intensity, contrasting with the dark green, velvety texture of the leaves and the buttermilk colour of the buds. The whole effect is startlingly modern.
In 1888 petunias were a fashionable new bedding flower and of especial interest to gardeners, some of whom (especially the English) were keen collectors of Fantin’s work.
Petunias grow wild in Central and South America; their range is from New Jersey and California as far as Argentina. Brazil has the largest concentration of different species. In Ecuador one species was valued by the native South Americans for its hallucinogenic properties, giving them the illusion of flying during sacred ceremonies. Petunias belong to the Solanaceae family, like deadly nightshade, mandrake, tobacco, tomatoes and henbane, which have similar properties: henbane was used by European witches for ‘flying’.
Petunias were named by the eminent French botanist and Superintendent of the Jardin des Plantes, Bernard Jussieu, because of the plant’s resemblance to tobacco, which was known to have the native name petun. The first petunia to arrive in France was Petunia nyctaginiflora, now more commonly known as P. axillaris, white, large flowered, and scented at night, which comes from Brazil. Dried specimens or descriptions may have arrived at the turn of the century, but an actual plant was brought in 1823. Next came Petunia integrifolia, which is purple and now usually called P. violacea; this is recorded as being first named by Joseph Hooker at Kew from a plant raised from seed sent to Glasgow by a Scottish merchant working in Buenos Aires. Several other species followed, most with small flowers but, by hybridising, the bedding plants were achieved.
The characteristics seen in Fantin Latour’s petunias may have come from Petunia vittata (introduced in 1838) which is faintly striped from the throat upwards, or Petunia nixenii (introduced in 1844) in which the stripes originated at the border of the flower. Another ancestor could have been Petunia bicolor. According to a source cited simply as Francis (1915) the first double petunia appeared in a private garden in France in 1855. Another possibility is that the Germans first bred fringed petunias and from these produced the first double. Probably they were all producing hybrids simultaneously, hence the divergent claims.
This painting belonged to Ruth Edwards, wife of Edwin Edwards (1823-1879) one of Fantin-Latour’s staunchest patrons. Fantin-Latour had met Edwards while staying with the sister of his friend and mentor James McNeill Whistler in London in 1859. Edwards, a former King’s Proctor (a legal officer) and keen amateur painter, shared with Fantin-Latour a passion for music. He bought many of Fantin-Latour’s still lifes and became in effect his English dealer, in 1871 clearing the artist’s studio of sketches, still life and flower pieces after the privations of the Franco-Prussian War and establishing a buoyant market for his work in England. After Edwards’s death Fantin-Latour maintained his friendship with Ruth, who was a gifted pianist.
Botanical information kindly provided by Celia Fisher.
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.
 See Peter Henderson, Handbook of Plants and General Horticulture, 1890; Alice Coates, Flowers and their Histories, 1956; KC Sink, Petunia, 1984.