Born in Grenoble in 1836, Henri Fantin-Latour was the son of the portrait painter, Théodore Fantin-Latour. The family moved to Paris in 1841, and at the age of 10, Fantin-Latour began to study painting with his father. In 1850, he entered the studio of Lecoq de Boisbaudran, an innovative and highly revered teacher known for his system of training visual memory. In 1854, he enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and also briefly studied under Gustave Courbet in 1861. During his studies, Fantin-Latour developed an appreciation for the Italian masters, in particular Titian and Veronese. He spent much of his time copying works in the Louvre, which he sold mostly to American and English clients. While painting in the Louvre in 1857, he met Edouard Manet, with whom he forged a lasting friendship, and in 1858, he also met Whistler and his future wife, Victoria Dubourg.
In 1861, Fantin-Latour exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon, having been refused entry in 1859, along with his friends Manet and Whistler. He continued to contribute works to the Salon almost annually up until 1876, but also took part in the first Salon des Refusés in 1863.
Like his father, Henri Fantin-Latour became a respected portrait painter, and in the 1860s produced impressive and important works documenting his friendships with some of the most avant-garde artists, poets, and musicians of the period. Painted in 1894, Homage to Delacroix (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) depicts Fantin-Latour with Baudelaire, Manet, Whistler and others, grouped around a portrait of Delacroix. A Studio at Batignolles, 1870 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), depicts a group of artists, including Fantin-Latour, Monet and Renoir, watching Monet paint in his studio. Despite his association with the most forward thinking artists of the age, Fantin-Latour remained, at heart, a traditionalist. He rarely painted outside, preferring to remain in his studio where he produced his portraits, still lifes, and romantic, imaginative scenes from the operas of Wagner, Schumann and Berlioz.
However, Fantin-Latour is best known for his exquisite and elegant still life paintings of flowers. In 1859, Whistler encouraged Fantin-Latour to visit him in England, where he was introduced to the amateur artist Edwin Edwards and his wife, Ruth, who were to become life-long friends and patrons. In England, encouraged by Edwards, he became particularly popular for flower paintings, which were considered the height of fashion and greatly admired for the restraint and elegance of their color and composition. He visited England frequently, and regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy in London between 1862 and 1900, raising his work to an even higher degree of prominence.
Fantin-Latour’s delicate, graceful, and luxurious flower pieces are considered to be amongst the most impressive and sought after still life paintings of the 19th Century and his works can be found in some of the most important private and public collections throughout the world.