I am reminded of this incredible Victorian artist (1836-1904) every day as Fantin Latour, the rose is blooming beautifully in my garden now at the beginning of June. I planted this old Centifolia rose not only because all the Centifolias are stunning and fragrant but because I so admire the artist and his paintings of roses. I do not know who named the rose but it is a fitting tribute to this great man.
Henri Fantin-Latour did not only paint still-lifes, many of which were of roses, but he was also a great portrait painter, especially group portraits, and for this he is probably best known. It is obviously his paintings of roses that I love but realise the talents of this man knew no bounds. In his later years he also had a passion for music, which began during his visits to London in the 1860s.
He was born in Grenoble on 14th January 1836 but when he was five his family moved to Paris. He always drew as a boy and his father encouraged him with this. When he was fourteen Henri joined a professional drawing school where he was a successful student. He then moved to the Ecole des Beaux Arts where he continued for three months only as it was thought he was making little progress. From then on he relied on the Louvre as his teacher , where he would copy the paintings of his choice or those that he was commisioned to paint. While he worked in the Louvre he met a number of his contemporary artists including Manet, Morisot and Whistler. It was here also that he met his future wife, Mlle Dubourg whom he later married in 1876.
At this time the route to professional success was through the Salon in Paris and in 1859 he made his first attempt to gain admission by submitting three paintings. They were rejected. In 1861 he tried again and was successful with a portrait of an English painter W.M.Ridley to whom he had been introduced by Whistler. From that point on he had a typically artistic career with its high and low points, lucrative and otherwise.
It was in England, during the 1860s, that his first flower paintings began to sell, they were virtually unknown in France at this time. It is perhaps true to say that if Henri Fantin-Latour had only painted portraits he would not be as well known as he is today. His flower studies have a special quality and were neatly summed up by Emile Blanche when he said “Fantin studied each flower, its grain, its tissue, as if it were a human face”. He painted many flowers but the one that occurs most often is the rose, fortunately for me and all other lovers of roses. Apparently he did not regard himself to be a very good portrait painter as he felt he needed to know the sitter really well, which resulted in him painting more than one self portrait but also allowed him the time to paint his still-lifes of fruit and flowers.
Throughout his life he continued to paint both portraits, mostly group, and still-lifes. For me his paintings of roses, although similar in style, have differing appeal. They are all beautiful and I love all that I have seen but as with all artists’ pictures we tend to feel some are more beautiful than others!
Henri Fantin-Latour is included in the Rosarian Library in the form of prints and postcards and the informative book ‘Fantin Latour’ by Edward Lucie-Smith. If you wish to find out more about this great man, as this short piece has not done him justice, this book is not only informative but includes many of his paintings.