Today I am looking at a work of art by the French painter, Henri Fantin-Latour, or to give him his full name, Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour. The family was of Italian ancestry and the “Fantin” part of the name came from the fact that some of the ancestors hailed from the southern Italian town of San-Fantino. In the 17th century, a Jean Fantin added “Latour” to the name of Fantin.
Henri was born in Grenoble in 1836. His father, Theodore Fantin-Latour, originally from Metz, was a society portraitist painter. In 1841 the family moved to Paris. Having shown a liking for drawing at an early age, he received his initial artistic training from his father. Then at the age of fourteen, he enrolled on a three-year course at the École de Dessin of the French artist and drawing instructor, Lecoq de Boisbaudran. Following this, he spent a short time at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. During his art student days he spent most of his time at the Louvre copying the painting of the old Masters as well as making many visits to the Musée de Luxembourg to study and copy the works of Eugene Delacroix. In 1861, after he graduated from the art schools he worked for a time at the atelier of Gustave Courbet and supported himself by earning money as a copyist.
During his time copying paintings at the Louvre he came across and became friends with a number of the future Impressionists, such as Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Berthe Morisot. In 1858, he struck up a special friendship with the American-born artist James Whistler and along with French-born English painter Alphonse Legros he founded the art group known as the Société des Trois. Whistler, who had moved to London, invited Henri over for a visit which he accepted and through the good auspices of his two friends Whistler and Legros he was introduced to the art world of London. This was the first of many trips to London made by Fantin-Latour. One very important introduction whilst there was to Edwin Edwards, who had trained as a lawyer but also practiced as an artist and etcher. He acted as Henri Fantin-Latour’s agent in England and found him many buyers for his floral paintings as well as a number of patrons.
Henri Fantin-Latour had started painting a number of works of art featuring floral still-lifes and these were well received in London although strangely enough never popular in France during his lifetime. Henri Fantin-Latour exhibited a number of his works at the Paris Salon in 1861 and 1862 and later in 1863, at the Salon des Refusés, and he exhibited regularly at the London Royal Academy. Although he had been close friends to a number of the Impressionists, he never put up any of his paintings for their eight Impressionist Exhibitions. The reason for that decision was probably due to the fact that although he counted them as friends, he disagreed with their artistic theories and philosophy. His artistic style was more conservative.
Henri-Fantin Latour will always be remembered for his luxurious floral paintings but he was an artist who painted many group portraits and it through these works that we get an insight into the friendship between the now-famous artists, poets, musicians and writers of that era. During his time as an artist he also completed no fewer than twenty three self-portraits.
In 1875, aged thirty nine, Henri Fantin-Latour married a fellow painter, Victoria Dubourg and the couple spent their summers at the country estate of his in-laws at Buré. In 1879 Henri Fantin-Latour was awarded the Legion d’Honneur medal. Henri Fantin Latour died in 1904, aged 68 and was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.
The painting I am featuring today was not one of Fantin-Latour’s beautiful floral works of art but instead I am going to look at one of his group portraits. It is very like a painting I featured in My Daily Art Display on November 10th 2011 entitled Bazille’s Studio; rue de la Condamine by Frédéric Bazille, who also actually appears in today’s painting.
My painting today is entitled Un atelier aux Batignolles (A Studio at Les Batignolles) and he completed it in 1870. Batignolles is part of the 17th arondissement of the city of Paris. At the time of Fantin-Latour, this was a cultural hive of activity and served as a base for young painters such as Édouard Manet and many of his artist friends who, because of the locality, became known as Le groupe des Batignolles. The painting today is a kind of “who’s who” of that group. It is more than just that. In some ways it is Henri Fantin-Latour paying homage to his friend Manet.
We are in the atelier of Édouard Manet and we see him sitting at his easel. He concentrates on the man sitting in the other chair, the subject of his painting, Zacharie Astruc. Astruc was a painter, poet, sculptor and art critic who had rallied to support the likes of Courbet and Manet and the Impressionist group of painters when they were constantly being criticized. Standing around and watching the artist at work are some of his friends. At the far left of the painting, seen standing directly behind Manet is the German painter Otto Schölderer. Next to him, wearing a hat, is Auguste Renoir. Further to the right of the painting and almost in the background, are Emile Zola, the writer who also championed the cause of the Impressionists in their struggle with the Salon and its condemnation of this new grouping of artists, Edmond Maître another supporter of the Impressionist painters and who was, at the time, a civil servant at the town hall. Almost hidden in the corner of the painting is Claude Monet. Standing tall and upright behind the chair with a full beard is the twenty-six year old, Frédéric Bazille, who two months after this painting was completed was killed in the Franco-Prussian War. There is a formal air to this group portrait. The men are all dressed in somber dark suits and their expressions are serious and unsmiling. All these young artists had suffered at the hands of the art critics of the day. They and their paintings were accused as being frivolous and contrary to what the art establishment was used to. It is possibly for that reason that Henri Fantin-Latour decided to depict the gathering so formally and with an air of respectability. Could this desire to show how these young artists had not completely put the antique traditions of the Academics of the Salon behind them be the reason why the artist has included a statuette of Minerva on the table at the left of the painting? In my last blog regarding Monet and Camille Doncieux I mentioned that all things Japanese were the rage in Paris and France in the late nineteenth century. Look how Fantin-Latour has positioned a Japanese stoneware vase next top Minerva in the painting.
This work by Henri Fantin-Latour is almost a historical painting. It records for us a time in history when these characters were leaving their mark. Each one of them is posing for posterity. Zola once wrote about the struggle these artists had to endure and the way in which Édouard Manet tried to rally them when they became dispirited. He wrote:
“…Around the painter so disparaged by the public has grown up a common front of painters and writers who claim him as a master…”
Henri Fantin-Latour put forward the painting to be exhibited at the 1870 Salon The painting was accepted and he was awarded a medal by the salon for this work of art. In spite of his close relationship with the Impressionist painters he never followed their artistic techniques. He remained a traditionalist and remained faithful to that traditional technique. In the latter part of his career he painted less and concentrated on lithography.
Did you wonder whether Manet was actually painting a picture of Zacharie Astruc as depicted in today’s featured work? Who knows, but coincidentally, Manet did complete a portrait of Astruc four years earlier in 1866, which now hangs at the Kunsthalle in Bremen………………….