White Lilies; Branche de Lys; Madonna lily, Lilium candidum
- Place of origin:
Fantin-Latour, Henri, born 1836 - died 1904 (painter (artist))
- Materials and Techniques:
oil on canvas
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Prints & Drawings Study Room, room 315, case R, shelf 20, box R
Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) was born in Grenoble and first trained with his father, Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1805-75), and then with Horace Lecocq de Boisbaudran at the Petite Ecole de Dessin in Paris from 1850 to 1856. In 1861 he worked in Gustave Courbet's studio for several months as a pupil. After a period of portraiture, Fantin-Latour concentrated on flowers paintings and still-lifes for which he is now best known. His flower pieces were especially popular with British collectors, and he exhibited at the Royal Academy in London from 1862 onwards, especially thanks to the patronage of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), whom he met in 1858.
This painting is a fine example of Fantin-Latour's paintings of flower, a category in which he progressively specialised executing up to 500 floral compositions. This painting shows a stem of white lilies whose pure white contrasts against the plain dark background. This effect of light and colour are characteristic of the new naturalism developed in French art in the second half of the 19th century, which anticipate the Impressionists' new experimentations.
Oil on canvas depicting white lilies.
Place of Origin
Fantin-Latour, Henri, born 1836 - died 1904 (painter (artist))
Materials and Techniques
oil on canvas
Marks and inscriptions
Height: 43 cm estimate, Width: 30 cm estimate, Height: 56.5 cm frame, Width: 44 cm frame, Depth: 6.5 cm frame
Object history note
Bought in 1882 from Mrs Ruth Edwards as a 'school example'.
Historical significance: This painting was probably painted in Paris in Fantin-Latour's studio. It shows a stem of white lilies silhouetted against a a dark plain background, the motif being cut off on the bottom edge. It is one of the three paintings the South Kensington School of Design, now Victoria and Albert Museum, acquired as a model for its students (see also S.Ex.24-1884 and S.Ex.4-1889). They all share the characteristic of presenting a single plant rather than a bouquet, depicted without a vase or table, on a plain background. In these three pictures, the artist focused his attention on the contrast between the brilliant colours of the flowers and the plain neutral background pervading thus the picture with a strong luminosity. Whereas the other two paintings present a luminous background and intense colours, here the light effect came from the contrast between the pure white of the lilies and the plain background bathed in the shade, making this painting an obvious studio piece.
The Barbizon School and the Impressionists engendered a new interest for naturalism and the objective rendering of light and colours. However, Fantin-Latour did not share their enthusiasm for open air painting and most of his compositions were executed in his studio.
This painting was purchased from Mrs Elizabeth Ruth Edwards, who was acquainted with Fantin-Latour as she and her husband hosted the artist for a few months in their house at Sunbury-on-Thames in 1861. On this occasion, Fantin-Latour executed her portrait, now in the Musée du Petit-Palais, Paris. Mr and Mrs Edwards became his dealers in England and their friendship with the painter is witnessed by his portrait of them dated 1875, now in the Tate Gallery, London (F.738).
Historical context note
19th-century French art is marked by a succession of movements based on a more or less close relationship with nature. At the beginning of the century, Romantic artists were fascinated by nature they interpreted as a mirror of the mind. They investigated human nature and personality, the folk culture, the national and ethnic origins, the medieval era, the exotic, the remote, the mysterious and the occult. This movement was heralded in France by such painter as Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). In its opposition to academic art and its demand for a modern style Realism continued the aims of the Romantics. They assumed that reality could be perceived without distortion or idealization, and sought after a mean to combine the perception of the individual with objectivity. This reaction in French painting against the Grand Manner is well represented by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) who wrote a 'Manifesto of Realism', entitled Le Réalisme published in Paris in 1855. These ideas were challenged by the group of the Barbizon painters, who formed a recognizable school from the early 1830s to the 1870s and developed a free, broad and rough technique. They were mainly concerned by landscape painting and the rendering of light. The works of Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña (1807-1876), Jules Dupré (1811-1889), Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867), Constant Troyon (1810-1865) and Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) anticipate somehow the plein-air landscapes of the Impressionists.
Oil painting, 'White Lilies', Henri Fantin-Latour, 1877
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 37-38, cat. no. 82.
The following is the full text of the entry:
Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore FANTIN-LATOUR (1836-1904)
Born at Grenoble, he was a pupil of his father, Théodore, who settled in Paris in 1841, and then studied under Lecocq de Boisbaudran (1851-c. 1854), at the École des Beaux-Arts (1854) and in Courbet's Studio (1862). From 1861 he exhibited regularly in the Salon. He visited England in 1859, 1861, 1864, and 1881 and exhibited at the R. A. 1862-1900. He painted portraits and allegorical and mythological subjects as well as the flower pieces upon which his reputation in England largely rested.
Lit. Mme Fantin-Latour, Catalogue de l'oeuvre complet de Fantin-Latour, 1911.
Signed and dated upper right Fantin.77
17 x 11 7/8 (43 x 30)
This and the following two paintings (nos. 83 & 84) belong to the relatively rare group of Fantin's flower pieces in which a single flower, depicted without vase or table, is silhouetted against a plain background. A painting closely related to S.Ex.61-1882, Branche de lis sans vase, dated 1883, was sold at Sotheby's, I July 1964, lot 38, repr. (now colI. Mrs E. Hutton, Westbury, Long Island)
The Museum bought all three of these paintings from Mrs Ruth Edwards, widow of the painter Edwin Edwards, who had been a close friend of Fantin's and who, from 1871, acted as his agent in London. A portrait of Mr and Mrs Edwards by Fantin is in the Tate Gallery (no. 1952).
Prov. Bought from Mrs Edwin Edwards in 1882 as one of a series of 'schools examples', which were circulated to schools for use in art classes.
Exh. Fantin-Latour flower paintings, Marlborough Fine Art, 1962, no. 8, repr. p. 22.
Lit. Mme Fantin-Latour, Oeuvre cat., 1911, no. 843.
V. Dubourg Fantin-Latour, Catalogue de l'oeuvre complet (1849-1904) de Frantin-Latour, Paris, 1911, no. 843, p.91.
Fantin-Latour, flower paintings : June-July 1962, London: 1962, p. 91.
Emma House and David Ingram, Painting Flowers. Fantin-Latour & the Impressionists The Bowes Museum, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-9548182-5-8.
Catalogue entry as follows:
'This painting is of a flowering stem of the Madonna lily, Lilium candidum, a scientific name that derives from the Greek word leirion, simply meaning 'a lily', plus a Latin word meaning "pure glistening white". Lilium candidum, a native of Anatolia, is one of the oldest cultivated plants, being known throughout the ancient world.
With the associations of L. candidum with deities in both the ancient world and the Christian era, it is refreshing to see it depicted here for its own sake. The simple, uncluttered painting captures the structure of the flowers perfectly: the six fold symmetry, the long curving styles, and the anthers shedding pollen that stains the petals a rich rusty yellow. The flowers are not "pure glistening white", however, but faintly streaked with purple. L. candidum is quite variable in the wild and many garden forms have been selected in Europe, including a purple striped variety.'
Henri Fantin-Latour and the Impressionists: Still Life Painting in the nineteenth century (The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle 16/04/2011-09/10/2011)
Fantin-Latour, flower paintings (Marlborough Fine Art 01/07/1962-31/12/2006)
Henri Fantin-Latour and the Impressionists: Still Life Painting in the nineteenth century (The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle 01/01/2004-09/10/2011)
Painting the Summer: Henri Fantin-Latour (York City Art Gallery 01/01/2005-23/09/2007)
Canvas; Oil colour
Lilies; Still life; Stem
Paintings; Gardens & Gardening