Arts Everyday Living: Through an Impressionist’s Eyes-Portrait of A Black Woman Flower Vendor

Frederic Bazille, Young Woman with Peonies, 1870, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Musee Fabre, Montpellier, France

Title: Young Woman with Peonies

Artist: Frederic Bazille (1841-1870)

Over the years, I have seen Young Woman with Peonies hanging in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  Often in the French Impressionist section, along with a selection that includes Monet and Renoir, Degas and Mary Cassatt, among others. Yet this work has stood out, its female vendor inevitably attracting my attention, even though she is surrounded by a sumptuous floral  display including tulips, roses. and the peonies she holds  for a potential customer.

Her expression unmistakably sad, especially her soulful eyes, drawing us inward. As if she were the heart of the painting rather than the flowers, perhaps asking us to consider her position in French society and quality of life. For although slavery was banned then in France, she would have been seen as  inferior because of her race and class.

Frederic Bazille, the creator of  Young Woman with Peonies, would die tragically shortly after its completion, a casualty of the Franco-Prussian War that broke out in the summer of 1870.  An influential figure in the formative years of Impressionism, along with his friends Monet and Renoir, his premature death prevented him from realizing the vision of one of art history’s most popular movements as well as attaining the fame of his colleagues.

A similar version of this subject can be found today in the collection of Musee Fabre in Montpellier, Brazille’s home city. Just google: BLACK WOMAN WITH PEONIES, 1870, Musee Fabre, Montpellier, France.






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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