If there were works that may have directly inspired Bazille’s Etude de Fleurs, they were most likely flower paintings done by his friends Monet (see fig. 2) and Renoir (see fig. 3). Flowering plants in terracotta pots play a role in each, and, as Gary Tinterow points out in the catalogue for The Origins of Impressionism, “[In the summer of 1864] Monet wrote a long letter encouraging Bazille to do a flower piece: ‘Do one, then, because it is, I think, an excellent subject to paint.’”
“By the time Bazille began to paint [Etude de Fleurs] in 1866,” Tinterow continues, “he had the opportunity to study Monet’s Fleurs de printemps of 1864 [fig. 2] and Renoir’s analogous Fleurs de Printemps of 1864 [fig. 3]. He had also looked long and hard at Manet’s still lifes in the 1865 exhibition at the Galerie Martinet and at Cadart’s…When Bazille sent [Etude de Fleurs] as a safe bet to the Salon of 1868, it was Manet who was cited as Bazille’s…example, since Monet and Renoir were still virtually unknown” (p. 331).
When the painting was exhibited in the Salon of 1868, it was attacked by the critic known as J. Ixe who wrote for the Journal de Montpellier. Ixe denigrated Bazille as a follower of Manet, who was widely recognized as the de facto leader of the avant-garde and the source of a wide range of artistic miscues. Predictably, the conservative critic also excoriated Bazille’s disregard for academic principles of composition and technique. But at the conclusion of his comments he added begrudgingly that Etude de Fleurs was “not without character and harmony of color” (p. 331). Moreover, Bazille’s painting seems to foreshadow a group of remarkable paintings of geraniums in terracotta pots done in the 1880s by Paul Cézanne (see fig. 4).
Fig. 1, Gustave Courbet, Fleurs (Flowers in a Vase), 1862, oil on canvas, Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, CA
Fig. 2, Claude Monet, Fleurs de printemps (Spring Flowers), 1864, oil on canvas, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of the Hanna Fund
Fig. 3, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Fleurs de printemps (Spring Flowers), 1864, oil on canvas, Kunsthalle, Hamburg
Fig. 4, Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Petunias, circa 1885, oil on canvas, Private collection
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