According to Gustave Courbet, the leading figure in realism, an artist should only depict existing things. Abstract subjects don’t belong on a canvas. This still life by Henri Fantin-Latour, who was briefly his student, is indeed very concrete. And yet, the work exudes a stillness and gravity that transcends reality.
Symphony of colours
Unlike his tutor, Fantin-Latour sees a clear link between colour and poetry, which ‘creates thousands of things that the eye can’t see’, and he compares this poetry to the expressive power of music. He wanted his paintings to be a symphony of colours that sounds different to every listener. To achieve this he uses lots of warm colours set against a darker background, which makes these colours, with all their nuances, even more striking.
Although Fantin-Latour is very successful with his fruit and flower still lifes, he prefers to paint portraits, allegories and musical themes. For him, still lifes are merely a way to make money, but it is precisely these that bring him lasting fame.