- Fantin-Latour: A fleur de peau (exhibition catalogue, in French)By Laure Dalon, Xavier Rey, Bridget Alsdorf, Laurent Salome, and Leila Jarbouai
- The Art of Henri Fantin-Latour: His Life and WorkOur PickBy Frank Gibson
- Fantin-LatourBy Michelle Verrier
- Fantin-Latour: ExhibitionOur PickBy Douglas Druick and Michael Hoog
- Fellow Men: Fantin-Latour and the Problem of the Group in Nineteenth Century French PaintingOur PickBy Bridget Alsdorf
Important Art by Henri-Fantin Latour
Having had a self-portrait turned down in 1859, Woman Reading was the first of Fantin-Latour's paintings to be accepted into the Salon de Paris. He would usually choose his models from his family circle and the sitter in this portrait, one of the artists personal favourites, was indeed the artist's sister. In contrast to the impressionistic preferences of the burgeoning French avant-garde, Woman Reading took its lead rather from 18th century Dutch realist painting.
Painted in muted colors, the canvas shows a young woman absorbed in a book. The atmosphere and subject of the painting was inspired in fact by the work of eighteenth-century Dutch masters and his fellow countryman Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin who is best known for his domestic portraits including those of women engaged in everyday activities (such as sewing or weaving). Like Chardin, Fantin-Latour's women would be so engrossed in their activity that would appear oblivious to the artist's presence and to the spectator's gaze. In its exhibition notes on the painting, the Musée d'Orsay suggests that "The motionless model, the still life formed by the two books in the foreground, the subdued colours scarcely warmed by the reds of the sofa all contribute to the air of tranquillity and silence [...] It gives a foretaste of the sobriety, simplicity and severity that characterised [Fantin-Latour's] later portraits".
Painted a year after the death of Eugène Delacroix, Homage to Delacroix is an early example of the group portraits Fantin-Latour became so well known for. Still using a palette of muted earth tones, the artist has painted a group of ten gentlemen seated around a portrait of Delacroix (which is based on a photograph of Delacroix taken ten years earlier). Also depicted are: Fantin-Latour himself on the left in the white shirt and holding a palette; James Whistler standing next to him; Charles Baudelaire is seated with his arms crossed; and Edouard Manet, stands directly behind him.
Aside from promoting the artist's preferred colors, the work also shows how Fantin-Latour stayed true to his preference for Realism and a more academic style, despite being close to the most significant figures associated with the more radical art directions in Paris. The painting also provides evidence of his ability to use subtle changes in shade and tone to denote precise lines and the characteristics of his sitters. Although the work was not well received by progressive critics, Fantin-Latour was not swayed by the fashion for Impressionism and his portraits, now looked to as historical records, have stood up to scrutiny and the tests of time.
Tannhäuser on the Venusberg is one of Fantin-Latour's earliest interpretations of contemporary operas, here Richard Wagner's controversial take on the frictions between profane and sacred love. The first of his three treatments of this opera, the image is taken from the first scene in which Tannhäuser has just arrived in Venusberg, the fairyworld ruled by Venus. He is surrounded by dancing nymphs and Bacchantes while Venus reclines across him. This is the moment leading up to the most scandalous part of the play in which Tannhäuser has an orgy with Venus and her nymphs.
This opera was a favorite of the Fantin-Latour (he went on to create a lithographic transfer of this painting in the 1870s, his first serious attempt at using this method). As a painting, and though rendered via a brighter color palette and looser brushstrokes than his portraits and still lifes, one can still detect his commitment to muted Realism in the figure of Tannhäuser. He is somehow placed outside the gaiety of the scene, shown in shadow and rather alone when placed against the pale bodies and pastel hues of his mythical companions. Fantin-Latour's dedication to working in his studio, led to some compositional flaws; the awkward relationship between the bodies being attributed to the artist refusal to work with landscapes.