As with many of his works in the still life genre, Magnolia is primarily a study of color and light that utilizes subtle variations of tone to convey the scene and evoke emotion. A reporter from the Boston Evening Transcript discussed the work in a review of the 1910-11 La Farge Memorial Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, “The flower pieces in oil which date from a comparatively early period are marvelously beautiful and delicate. Take for instance the large white magnolia blossom with its green leaves, a truly superb bit of painting…” (“The Fine Arts: La Farge’s Work,” Boston Evening Transcript, December 28, 1910, p. 19). Magnolia exemplifies La Farge’s meticulous skill in painting as he beautifully renders the effects of sunlight on the white tablecloth and the translucency of the amethyst glass vase by utilizing a combination of brushwork and color.
La Farge once explained the intention of his still life paintings, “My painting of flowers was in great part a study; that is, a means of teaching myself many of the difficulties of painting, some of which are contradictory, as, for example, the necessity of extreme rapidity of workmanship and very high finish. Many times in painting flowers I painted right on without stopping, painting somethings far into the night or towards morning while the flower still retained the same shade, which it was sure to lose soon. This obliged me to also know the use of my colors and the principles of the use of the same, for the difference between daylight and lamplight is very great, and the colors as one sees them in one light and not the colors of another. That we all know, as even the ladies do who wear different colors for night from what they do for the day” (as quoted in James L. Yarnall, Nature Vivante: The Still Lifes of John La Farge, 1995, New York, p. 16).
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