Arts Everyday Living: The Enduring Pansy–Creative Comparisons, From Realist to Dreamer

Henri Fantin-Latour, Pansies, 1874, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Title: Pansies

Artist: French master Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)

A FLOWER SPECIALIST: Although Impressionists like Monet, Renoir, and  Berthe Morisot were his friends as well as colleagues, Henri Fantin-Latour never adapted their style. Instead he painted primarily as a realist known today for his numerous still lifes, especially of flowers. Recreating not just the standard tulip or rose but an encyclopedia of blossoms: dahlias, camellias  narcissus, hyacinths, nasturtiums, jonquils, daisies, clematis,  hollyhocks, among others. In addition, Fantin-Latour’s wife artist Victoria Dubourg (1840-1926) produced her own floral interpretations.

THE HUMBLE PANSY:  Pansies are perhaps the humblest flower, small in size yet strong in endurance. Fantin-Latour often portrayed them, perhaps fascinated by their tiny faces, that distinctive pattern evident on the upper petals. Do they seem to smile at us, the onlooker, no matter what the weather conditions or season? In some circumstances even able to survive the winter snow. In the National Gallery of Art’s version above, the richly multi-colored pansies might be indoors, protected from the elements, planted snugly in garden pots. 

GOOGLING FANTIN-LATOUR: Would you like to view more of his flower paintings? Here are a few suggestions.

Still Life with Flowers and Fruit, 1866, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Still Life with Flowers, 1881, Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

Roses and Lilies, 1888, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Roses in a Glass Vase, 1890, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Odilon Redon, Pansies, c. 1905, pastel on brown paper, Rosenwald Collection, Gift of the Adele R. Levy Fund, Inc., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Title: Pansies

Artist: Odilon Redon (1840-1916)

AN ARTIST OF VISIONS:  Odilon Redon chose a path of artistic expression quite different from his contemporary Henri Fantin-Latour only fours years his senior.  For Redon’s creative world was based on his inner dreams and visions, inspired both by mythology as well as masters of fantasy like Edgar Allan Poe. His early works, though, were mainly done in black and white, often in the media of charcoal or lithography. It was later in his career, when he was in his forties and fifties, that Redon introduced an extraordinary spectrum of brilliant and at time electrifying color.  

DREAMING OF FLOWERS: Starting around the turn of the twentieth century, flowers became a central theme in Redon’s output. For example, the artist created some 100  floral still lifes between 1900, when he turned 60, and 1916 the year of his  death,  Many of his bouquets, arranged in striking vases, seem more imaginary than real and difficult to identify. Yet, sometimes Redon focused specifically on flowers we can actually find in our gardens such as geraniums or lilies of or the pansies represented in the collection of the National Gallery shown above. 

How would you describe them? With words like delicate, fragile, and exquisite? Do you have the sense too of the individuality of the pansies?  As if you could easily touch and feel (but gently) the texture of the petals? What about the colors? The variety of blues, both soft and dark in tone? Are you particularly drawn to the pair of orange and brown pansies that seem to be beckoning us to venture closer? 

However, do the pansies appear to be floating in space? Even if occupying a rather mysterious container or vessel of some unknown material?  Also does Redon’s use of  pastels, vibrant in quality, have a magical effect?  

GOOGLING REDON: Enjoy other floral creations by Odilon Redon, beginning with these examples.

Bouquet of Flowers, c. 1900-1905, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Vase of Flowers (Pink Background), c. 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Flowers in a Vase, c. 1910, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

White Vase with Flowers, 1916, Musee D’Orsay, Paris





In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.

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