Friday, November 28, 2008

Henri Fantin-Latour: The Still Lifes

"Asters And Fruit On A Table" 1868

Born in Grenoble, France, and receiving an artistic education at a very young age from his father Théodore, Ignace Henri Jean Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) began his career as a traditional painter, and studied in the Louvre, making copies of old master paintings. He later worked in Gustave Courbet's studio, where he drew and painted from live models. Fellow painters Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, and James McNeill Whistler were among his friends. In 1859 he paid the first of many visits to London, where he exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1862, and the following year he showed at the Salon des Refusés in Paris because his paintings had been rejected by the official Salon. Moving away from the academic approach however, he began to give more place to his romantic visions, and focused a great deal on capturing the momentary beauty of flowers (along with various inanimate objects) through painting still lifes.
Cut flowers, because of their being short lived, are considered by many as symbols of mortality; Though hauntingly beautiful, they inevitably fade with the passing of time, not unlike our lives here on earth. By expressing sensitive awareness for these mere mortals, one can at the same time feel in touch with a more lasting reality; A reality of hope (Have you ever surrounded yourself by nature, and suddenly felt the urge to speak to God?).
Fantin-Latour was among those captivated by the simple beauty of flowers, and he was a celebrated master at painting the subtle effects of light, illuminating simple subjects, as seen in "Plate of Peaches" (right). The fruit in this piece is done splendidly, with a great understanding of edges. Also, note the simplistic composition; Just three peaches, resting on an unadorned plate, glowing against a dark background that seems to continue up to the top edge of the painting, revealing no breaks in color, or further detail.
"Roses In A Glass Vase" and "Roses And Nasturtiums In A Vase", the two paintings below, show the same careful attention to light and shadow, on a subject that often found a place in Fantin-Latour's still lifes. Latour very frequently incorporated these treasured flowers into his work, with great success. He applied thick strokes of paint to every petal; And created variation of color, by adding different colors to the brush, without blending: A technique that, when mastered, results in a luminous effect, causing the flowers to appear life-like, and glow against a rather muted background.
Latour painted modern subjects realistically and expressed a sense of time momentarily arrested. In his works one can see a direct relationship between the artist and his subjects, and take away a sense of appreciation for the objects shown, and the stories behind them.

"Capucines" 1893





"Bouquet de fleurs" 1889

"Still Life With Flowers" 1881

"Still Life With Flowers And Fruit" 1866

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