Signed 'Fantin' bottom right, oil on canvas
19 7/8 x 24 1/8 in. (50.5 x 61.3cm)
Executed in 1895.
Allard & Noël, Paris.
His sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, sale of June 26, 1929, lot 40.
Émile Laffon, Paris.
Hôtel Drouot, Paris, sale of March 15, 1968, lot 57.
Acquired directly from the above sale.
Antoine Carmoli, Paris.
Acquired directly from the above.
Private Collection, Paris.
By descent in the family.
Private Collection, New Jersey.
Madame Fantin-Latour, Catalogue de l'Œuvre Complet de Henri Fantin-Latour, Floury Éditeur, Paris, 1911, no. 1580, p. 167.
The art of Fantin-Latour is admittedly hard to comprehend. Yet, his name resonates in everyone's mind as the artist who immortalized the famous "Atelier des Batignolles" and established for eternity the features of the greatest Impressionists such as Claude Monet (1840-1926), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), as well as the great 19th century poets like Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) and Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). His dedication to the genre of the still life is what made him famous and rich, with nearly 1,500 works of this kind - all masterpieces of sensuality and emotion.
The present work is linked to a lesser-known part of the artist's (late) career: a set of imaginative mythological compositions which were among the first works by the artist to enter French public collections at the turn of the twentieth century.
The "imaginative" works of Fantin-Latour have always been a part of the artist's career, even though he took some time to fully explore their potential. Indeed, it was not until the late 1860s that Fantin completely turned away from Realism. Until then, the artist, who greatly admired the work of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), felt that his true mission was to observe and restore on canvas what nature allowed him to see. In 1869, the artist declared to his patron Edwin Edwards (1823-1879): "I have changed a lot (...) Today, I consider time spent as a school. School of art study, school from nature, school of human race. This last school is the one of which I am the most disgusted. I'm done with it. I do not want to show anything anymore. It's gone." (quoted in French in Léonce Bénédicte, Catalogue de L'Oeuvre de Fantin-Latour, 1906, p. 27). This change of mind can be explained by the great success his still lifes garnered in England, enabling him to paint what he truly desired, without having to fulfill any of his patron's commissions. In January 1899, Fantin explained in a letter to his friend Otto Scholderer (1834-1902): " I do not make flowers anymore. I can, thanks to heaven, do what pleases me." (quoted in Fantin-Latour: À Fleur de Peau, exhibition catalogue, 2016).
As evidenced in the present work, Fantin's works of imagination are characterized by a cotton-like atmosphere, which the artist renders through fuzzy and wispy touches - a distinct sign of his late pictorial language. Here, Fantin depicts two female bathers at twilight. While one is shown seated on the river bend, her back to the spectator, the other red-haired figure is bathing in the river, flowers in her left hand and a wet cloth at her waist. Both figures are treated individually. The two do not communicate and are not linked by any sort of narrative. Fantin sets them in a barely sketched landscape, which he purposely leaves empty to strengthen the overall mystery of the scene.
Through this work, and more generally speaking through his Bathers series, Fantin pays tribute to the beauty of the female body. As Gustave Kahn (1859-1936) recalls, "Fantin is a lover of feminine beauty and nude (...) the feminine nude, he returns constantly, with piety, sweetness, trembling recollection, modesty and a kind of ecstatic passion" (quoted in Gustave Kahn, Fantin-Latour,1926 , pp. 43-44). Women have always been one of Fantin-Latour's favorite subjects. The artist started his career by representing the women around him, such as his sister and his wife. Later in life, as typified here, he repeatedly explored the purely feminine theme of "la toilette," always making sure the bare composition would serve the female figures' sensuality.
Fantin's particular style is a clever mix of long-term influences. Here, the artist clearly is inspired by the Old Masters he observed and copied while a student at the Louvre. From these years of intense observation and copying, he acquired the required maturity and confidence to take great liberty in terms of composition and colors. Thus, while the present composition and effects of soft light recall the works of 18th century artists Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) and Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (1758-1823), the nude figures are directly inspired by Italian masters Giorgione (c.1477-1510) and Titian (c.1485-1576), and the purely Venetian colors are particularly reminiscent of Paolo Veronese's (1528-1588) palette.
This constant back and forth between the study of the Old Masters and the observation of nature is also balanced by the very modern attention that Fantin-Latour dedicated to photography. At the time, photography was not only a source of interest and distraction for the artist, but also an important source of inspiration for his future works, as was the case for many of his fellow artists. Thanks to its low cost and acuteness, photography had become a very useful tool for creation (it was also a practical way to overcome the artist's personal lack of models), and Fantin used it for a lot of his preparatory drawings.
The paintings of Fantin-Latour continuously take on new meanings and depths, making him one of the most accomplished poets of the nineteenth century - modern, yet aware of the past history of art and its transformations. Similar to Pierre-Auguste Renoir (who reached a perfect synthesis of Impressionist technique, extraordinary colors and arcadian timelessness, with his Bathers), Fantin Latour's later works flourish with freedom and pleasure. Reflecting on Fantin's career, Édouard Manet (1832-1883) concluded: "Fantin, without ignoring the work of others, proves (…) that it was possible to find a way between reigning Academism and revolutionary Impressionism" (quoted in Fantin-Latour: À Fleur de Peau, exhibition catalogue, 2016, p. XX).
We wish to thank Galerie Brame & Lorenceau for confirming the authenticity of the present lot. The painting will be included in their forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of the artist's work.