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Henri Fantin-Latour




Henri Fantin-Latour began his artistic training early in life, first with his father, Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour, in 1846 and later studying at the Petite Ecole de Dessin and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Fantin-Latour was at the center of the art scene in Paris and he befriended the likes of Édouard Manet, Eugène Delacroix, J.-A.-D. Ingres, Camille Corot, and Gustave Courbet. Despite his proximity to the many of the leading painters of the day, Fantin-Latour’s style remained independent but clearly influenced by the major artistic currents of Romanticism and Impressionism. His aesthetic and style do not fit neatly into one category but were certainly in line with the cutting-edge trends of the time. During his lifetime he exhibited at both the Salon and the Salon des Refusés, and through his acquaintance with James McNeill Whistler, his works were greatly appreciated and found an audience of enthusiastic collectors in England. While he is perhaps best-known today for his still-life painting, Fantin-Latour painted in a wide range of genres, including allegorical and mythological works. The subject of the present work is somewhat enigmatic. Although it is titled Orientale in the catalogue of works assembled by the artist’s wife, Victoria Fantin-Latour, the subject is only broadly “Orientalist.” Rather it seems to be a personal evocation of an exotic world distant from fin-de-siècle France. The central figure, her arm and hip belt adorned with jewelry, has removed her top shawl and spun it about her naked torso, her right leg moving forward in a sinuous suggestion of a dance. She is accompanied by musicians playing a guitar, tambourine, and drum in a scene that at once recalls that of a Middle Eastern harem, though the setting is one of classical architecture replete with Corinthian columns. Three figures observe the performance, including a woman reclining on the floor, her bare back exposed to the viewer. Fantin-Latour frequently depicted semi-nude women in relaxed poses, but in 1898 and 1899, he was particularly taken by the subject of women dancing and making music in classical settings. He produced a lithograph of 1898 (Fig. 1), as well as two paintings on canvas—one in the Glasgow Museums (Fig. 2) and another in a private collection (Fig. 3)—that are comparable in type to the present work—each titled The Dance. Consistent among them is the focus on the single, scantily clad dancer that waves a swath of purple fabric behind them. The backgrounds of the paintings are each populated with classical columns that frame glimpses of landscape beyond. In our work, the figures surrounding the dancer are grouped closely together in a tight but harmonious composition. The rich colors of the draperies—purple, blue, red, and gold—stand out in the somewhat dark interior, each appearing to catch glints of light. Fantin-Latour’s sensitivity to color and light effects finds its root in his early training copying Old Master paintings—particularly his appreciation for the Venetian painters Titian and Veronese—as well as the influence of his Impressionist painter friends. The dramatic lighting and the application of the paint in almost hatched brushstrokes, lending a beautiful sketchy quality to the present work, are both characteristic of some of the artist’s finest figural paintings. Henri Fantin-Latour’s authorship of this painting has been confirmed by Sylvie Brame and François Lorenceau, authors of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist (written communication, 4 May 1996 and 25 May 2021).


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