Vase of Roses
A friend of the Impressionists, of whom he recorded the likenesses, Fantin-Latour was also one of the accepted portrait painters of bourgeois society; but neither his extremely boring portraits nor — still less — his musical allegories would have assured him a place in French painting without his admirable still-lifes of fruit and flowers. Indeed, even if we go further back into the past, the case of a mediocre painter excelling himself in still-life painting is not rare.
Fantin-Latour's favourite flower is the rose, which was extremely fashionable in his time. Celebrated to the point of banality by poets of all civilisations, compared to all the best things the world has produced, and treated as an attribute of the gods, of Christ, of the Virgin and of the Saints, the rose, curiously enough, for a long time aroused only slight interest from the strictly horticultural point of view. In 1663 Claude Mollet mentions six kinds of roses. At the end of the seventeenth century the writer who brought La Quintinie's work up to date found only 14 kinds of rosebush to recommend for gardens, although he described 225 varieties of pinks and 437 of tulips. In 1760 Linnaeus still enumerated only some twenty varieties of roses. A century later there were more than 12,000.
The enthusiasm for this flower started at the beginning of the nineteenth century in France under the Empire, when several rose-gardeners devoted themselves to producing fresh varieties. The Empress Josephine, who was passionately fond of this flower, wanted to have in her rose garden at Malmaison all the 250 kinds then known, and she stimulated the rose-gardeners to even greater efforts. The creation of new varieties was done by crossing native rose bushes with others imported from the Far East and from America at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. In 1830 the Marquis de Chesnel published a book on the history of the flower, and there were revivals of interest in this book under the Second Empire and at the beginning of the twentieth century. Specialist or amateur rose-fanciers multiplied, and rose gardens were created in the Ile-de-France (l'Hau, founded by Gravereaux in 1899, and Bagatelle in Paris in 1905), on the Cote d'Azur, in England, in Switzerland and beyond the Atlantic. The new creations were at that time often given the name of one of the great ladies of the period.