Henri Fantin-Latour Biography

Henri Fantin-LatourIt is almost impossible to see paintings of roses, tulips and other garden flowers without thinking of the French painter Henri Fantin-Latour. While Fantin-Latour paintings of celebrities were popular during his lifetime, the still-life paintings by Fantin-Latour are most popular with modern viewers.


Henri Fantin-Latour was born in Grenoble, France in 1836 into a family of artists. His father, Theodore Fantin-Latour was a prominent portrait painter. The young Latour followed in his father's footsteps and began his study of painting at age 10, under the direction of his father. In 1841, the family moved to Paris, where young artist Henri would have been exposed to a booming art scene.

In 1850, Henri Fantin-Latour began to study with Lecoq de Boisbaudran, a painter known for teaching his students methods of studying the models and recreating them on canvas from memory. In 1854, Henri Latour enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Here, he developed an appreciation for the style and techniques used by masters such as Titian and Veronese. Latour spent a significant amount of time in the Louvre, studying these older paintings and copying them onto his own canvases. He later sold these copies to English and American visitors to the Louvre. While painting in the Louvre in 1857, Fantin-Latour met and forged a friendship with Edward Manet. The two would remain friends throughout their lives. Artist Henri also studied briefly in the studio of Gustav Courbet. He ceased his studies at this time, and began to forge his own career as a painter rather than as a student.

Early Career

In 1859, Henri Fantin-Latour submitted paintings to the prestigious Paris salon, but his paintings were refused. During this time in Latour's career, he was often considered an Impressionist. His paintings did contain a light and airy brushstroke and a breathy technique, but Latour considered himself separate from the Impressionist movement. He did not accept their views as his own, although he was friends with many Impressionist painters throughout his life. This association may have kept him from wider recognition in France, as critics and the art buying public did not accept Impressionist painters and paintings.

One famous Latour painting, A Studio on the Batignolles makes this relationship quite clear. Here a group of artists, including Latour and Renoir, huddle around Monet as he paints in his studio. The men seem familiar friends, listening to and learning from one another. It's easy to see why outsiders would think Fantin-Latour would be heavily influenced by this group. But Fantin-Latour paintings are simply not influenced by Impressionist styles. Latour preferred to work in his studio, rather than outdoors, and he preferred to paint things as they truly were, rather than painting an impression of something captured in a fleeting moment.

Fantin-Latour Rose and Flower Paintings

In 1859, Latour's friend the painter James Abbot Whistler invited Latour to visit him in England. Latour brought many of his still-life paintings with him, and he achieved a wide following in England as a result of these paintings. In 1862, Fantin-Latour exhibited many of his paintings in the Royal Academy of London. He would exhibit there every year to follow.

The Fantin-Latour rose and flower still-life paintings from this period are truly remarkable. Consider Bouquet of Roses from our collection of paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour. The Fantin-Latour roses are incredibly detailed, with deeply colored centers and pale outer petals. Flowers are in separate stages of growth and death. Some appear to be just blossoms while others appear to be wilting away before our eyes. English collectors simply adored these paintings by Latour. As one critic wrote in 1925:

"The freshness and fragility, the brief splendor of the flower's life – apotheosis of useless beauty – which spends its essence in a day, may only be captured by a sensitive mind and an able hand. Fantin had this special endowment above all other painters."

The Latour art of flowers was also extremely popular in Australia, where patrons flocked to museums to see Latour paintings. It's theorized that Australian residents who were born in England longed for the fresh and fragile flowers of home that they simply couldn't grow in the heat of their new country.

Late Life

In 1861, Latour's works were finally accepted by the Salon, meaning that the Impressionist backlash may have peaked and disappeared. He began to achieve fame in France for his still-life paintings, as well as his paintings of famous artists and musicians. The French painter Henri was an avid follower of music, particularly pieces composed by Wagner, Berlioz and Schumann. He began to introduce musical themes into his paintings and lithographs late in his life.

In 1876, Henri Fantin-Latour married a fellow painter, Victoria Dubourg, and the two began to spend their summers at Dubourg's family estate at Buré, Orne in Basse-Normandie. Few details about this marriage are readily available in the Henri Fantin-Latour biography. In 1879, the Fantin-Latour painter was awarded the Legion d’Honneur medal by the French government. This is quite an achievement for an artist, and highlights just how popular Fantin-Latour paintings were during his lifetime. In 1904, Latour died at his home in Bure of Lyme disease.

Henri Fantin-Latour left behind multiple paintings, including over 500 still-life paintings of flowers and over 20 self-portraits. This is a prolific output for the French painter Henri Latour, and the art public is enriched by his work.