In its style and subject, Fleurs de printemps
exemplifies the key themes upon which Henri Fantin-Latour built his career. It was during the 1860s that Fantin-Latour turned away from portraiture in favour of still life. This shift in genre allowed Fantin-Latour new scope for experimentation with colour, texture, form and composition. It was on the basis of these flower pieces, and with the patronage of English collectors Edwin and Ruth Edwards, that Fantin-Latour achieved contemporary acclaim. The financial support afforded by Fantin-Latour’s great popularity offered the artist the freedom to dedicate himself to the academic exploration of his craft. The present work demonstrates Fantin-Latour’s technical ambition and the liberty of focus afforded by professional security. Though understated in its palette, Fleurs de printemps
is luminous with streaks of unadulterated white and pure yellow tones. Fantin-Latour conjures leaves and petals with individual considered brush strokes and renders the surface of the canvas textured with softly layered impasto. Reviewing Fantin-Latour’s work presented at the Salon of 1889, Émile Zola celebrated the subtlety of Fantin-Latour’s œuvre: ‘The canvases of M. Fantin-Latour do not assault your eyes; they do not leap at you from the walls. They must be looked at for a length of time in order to penetrate them and their conscientiousness, their simple truth—you take these in entirely, and then you return’ (quoted in Edward Lucie-Smith, Henri Fantin-Latour
, New York, 1977, p. 37).
Yet, in these still life paintings, Fantin-Latour did not deviate from his goal of naturalism and retained the meticulous detail acquired during his early years as a portrait painter. As Edward Lucie-Smith observed, ‘[H]e looked at flowers, as he did at faces, with no preconceptions. 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’ (Edward Lucie-Smith, Henri Fantin-Latour, New York, 1977, pp. 22-23).