The son of the painter Théodore Fantin-Latour, Henri Fantin-Latour initially worked under his father's direction before moving to study under Lecoq de Boisbaudran and Courbet. He joined the École des Beaux-Arts on 6 October 1854, making his Salon début in 1861. Even his earliest works reveal his talent as a draughtsman and colourist and his eye for charm and the ideal. He became friends with Manet in 1857, having met him at the Louvre, and in 1862 Manet portrayed him in his Music at the Tuileries. He also got to know Whistler during the latter's stay in Paris. In 1859, together with Manet, Whistler and other artists, Fantin-Latour was rejected from the Salon. Following this rejection, he joined the group that exhibited with Bonvin and met at the Café Guerbois, a group of friends which he portrayed in his Studio in the Batignoles. Although he was accepted at the 1861 Salon, he was part of the first Salon des Refusés in 1863 and also exhibited at the Salon of the Brussels Société des Beaux-Arts in 1900. Fantin-Latour did not receive any official recognition until 1870, with his Studio in the Batignolles. In 1878 he was awarded a second-class medal for two portraits and in 1897 he was given the Légion d'Honneur.
Fantin-Latour was one of the most sensitive painters of the second half of the 19th century. His technique was extremely soft and used a diffuse light. His portraits are wonders of grace, while his studio views give a superb impression of intimacy. His best paintings include Reading ( La Lecture), Homage to Delacroix and The Toast (1865). He also tried a wide variety of genres and handled portraits, genre paintings, flowers and allegorical paintings with equal mastery. He was also a superb pastellist and an extremely talented lithographer. A contemporary and friend of the Impressionists, he was more of a successor to Delacroix, although he showed his sympathy with the Impressionists' cause by painting portraits of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Delacroix, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Zola and Whistler.
Fantin-Latour himself is difficult to place. His situation at the end of the 19th century resembles that of Bonnard in the 20th century. Both of them liked to think of themselves as standing apart from the competition, mere painters, and accepting the condition that they would be judged solely by the quality of their work, regardless of their historical position in the development of the means of plastic expression. While still belonging to the Romantic movement, he painted visions of ethereal beings dancing in a fantastical landscape, preferring to exercise his imagination in the studio rather than to observe nature. Art history holds him in high esteem primarily for the peerless iconographic testimony of the many portraits he painted of his fellow painters and poets. Art enthusiasts liked him primarily for his many flower paintings, which they were quick to buy from a very early stage and which accounted for nearly all of his output between 1864 and 1896. Several exhibitions were organised after his death, including one at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts in 1906, and 'Hommes de Valeur': Henri Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon en Tijdgenoten (and their Contemporaries) at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands, in 2002.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Alençon: Still-life Study
Amiens (Mus. de Picardie): Figures in a Wood
Antwerp: Study for a Portrait
Athens (Ethnikí Pinakothíki): Flowers, Melon, Strawberries and Cherries (1866, oil on canvas)
Berlin: Portrait of the Artist; The Artist's Wife
Brussels: Drawing Lesson
Dallas (MA): Spring Flowers (Fleurs de Printemps) (1863, oil on canvas); Fall Flowers (Fleurs d'Automne) (1863, oil on canvas); Still-life with Bunch of Hawthorn, Bowl of Cherries, Japanese Bowl, and Cup and Saucer (1872, oil on canvas); Flowers and Bunches of Grapes (1875, oil on canvas, lithographs and drawing)
Florence: Portrait of the Artist
Grenoble (Mus. de Grenoble): Portrait of the Artist's Mother; Portrait of the Artist Aged 23; Birthday; Temptation
London (NG): Still Life with Glass Jug, Fruit and Flowers (1861, oil on canvas, on loan since 1979 at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin); Roses (1886 and 1890, oil on canvas, two paintings); Self Portrait (1860, oil on canvas); A Plate of Apples (1861, oil on canvas); The Judgement of Paris (c. 1863, oil on canvas, study); Mr and Mrs Edwin Edwards (1875, oil on canvas, exhibited at the Salon in 1875); Roses (1864, oil on canvas, five paintings on loan from the Tate Gallery since 1997)
Melbourne: Petunias; Dahlias
Montreal (MBA): Fairy (1863)
Paris (Louvre): Corner of the Table; Portrait of Verlaine; Portrait of Rimbaud
Paris (MAM): Portrait of Madame Fantin-Latour; Studio in Batignolles; Night; Rhine Gold; Portrait of the Artist; Around the Piano; Portrait of M. Adolphe Julien; Portrait of Mlle Charlotte Dubourg; Carnations
Paris (Mus. d'Orsay): Homage to Delacroix; Narcissi and Tulips; Nude Study
Paris (Mus. du Petit Palais): Faustus; Temptation of St Anthony
Rheims: Judgement of Paris