This is a remarkable still life by Vallayer-Coster, a work that she exhibited at the Salon of 1787, the year when it was painted, but which she kept thereafter, and which was in her collection when she died. Although she painted still lifes of game throughout most of her career, and especially in 1786 and 1787, this is her only fish still life (cooked lobsters do occur in two works of widely differing dates). Mackerel are very rarely seen in still lifes by any artist, perhaps because they do not stay fresh for long, and what is remarkable about this picture, is that they are clearly fresh. This should have been impossible in Paris before the advent of refrigeration and railways, and we have no record of a visit to the coast by the artist in 1787 or in any other year, so it is far from clear where she might have seen such fish.
It was as Anne Vallayer that she moved into apartments in the Louvre in 1780, where she was the only female artist with lodgings of her own. In the following year, on 21st April, she married Jean-Pierre-Silvestre Coster, a lawyer from Nancy, who held posts in the French government, and thereafter she was known as Vallayer-Coster.
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