The present picture, with its exceptional crispness and startling realism, demonstrates the best of the artist's expertise in this area. Fantin's depictions of flowers, fruit, crystal and porcelain number among the great examples of trompe l'oeil painting of the late 19th century. Collectors throughout Europe marveled at the extraordinary clarity and perfection of detail of these still-lifes, which Fantin painted in the three decades preceding his death in 1904. These spectacular pictures earned the artist his place during his lifetime as the premier painter of still-lifes.
The popularity of Fantin's still-lifes was largely due to the committed promotion and patronage of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Edwards. The Edwards were the source of the lion's share of these paintings in England during the last quarter of the 19th century, and this elaborate still-life was acquired by them shortly after the artist completed it in 1876. Throughout the 1870s, Edwards commissioned several pictures of floral arrangements from the artist, many of which depict lush bouquets of mixed flowers. The demand for these works continued up until the artist's death, long after he had grown tired of painting the genre. But the present picture is one of the early examples of the theme and evidences Fantin's fascination with his subject.
Douglas Druick has written the following about the appeal of these pictures and Fantin's ceaseless production of them during the last decades of the 19th century: "Quite naturally, his commercial success in Great Britain, organized thanks to the Edwardses, pushed him to increase his production: he would secure his independence and, in time, a comfortable life" (D. Druick, Fantin-Latour (ex. cat.), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1983, p. 30).
Because of the extraordinary eye for detail that he had developed as a portrait painter, the artist was capable of seeing each flower with remarkable specificity. According to Edward Lucie-Smith, "His belief, academic in origin, that technique in painting was separable from the subject to which the artist applied it, enabled him to see the blooms he painted not as botanical specimens, but as things which, though not necessarily significant in themselves, would generate significant art upon the canvas. At the same time, the naturalist bias of the milieu in which he had been brought up encouraged him to try and give a completely objective description of all the nuances of colour and form which he saw in the bouquet he had arranged" (E. Lucie-Smith, Henri Fantin-Latour, New York, 1977, pp. 22-23).
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