Flower power was the theme running through the first large scale show in Britain to celebrate the still life paintings of Henri Fantin-Latour.
Although the artist’s name might not be the first to trip off everyone’s tongue when reflecting on 19th Century greats, he was nevertheless up there with the finest, including Manet, who was a witness at his wedding, and Whistler, who introduced him to London’s artistic and intellectual society.
Painting Flowers: Fantin-Latour & the Impressionists, showcased around 30 of his works, alongside paintings by Renoir, Courbet, and Fantin-Latour’s wife Victoria Dubourg, among others.
From the 1860s, Fantin-Latour began developing his powers of observation, experimenting with colour, texture, form and composition in his still life paintings. Yet while still life painting grew in popularity among artists of the period, it was strongly resisted by the establishment.
Invited to London by Whistler, Fantin-Latour was introduced to Edwin Edwards and his wife, Ruth, who bought many of his still life paintings in the years that followed. They trumpeted his work among their circle and helped him develop a rich base of patrons in England, eventually acting as his agents.
In 1876 Fantin-Latour and his wife spent their first summer at Buré in France, a house inherited from her uncle. The provincial garden there provided an abundance of blooms from which both artists were inspired to create endless floral compositions.
The expansion of mail order horticulture in France during that time offered the domestic gardener access to a growing selection of plants, and provided Fantin-Latour with an ever increasing choice of subject matter. Botanist David Ingram explores his work, identifying many of the new and exciting varieties and hybrids that were available to the artist.
Fantin-Latour continued to refine his skills in representing textures and the tactile qualities of flowers, the delicate nature of their blooms and the structure of their stems. So admired did he become for his ability as a painter of roses that a fragrant pink Centifolia rose was named in tribute to him.