Learning From Great Artists- Henri Fantin-Latour

Today I want to focus on the paintings of Henri Fantin-Latour. His still life and alla prima work is what I am most drawn too. The loose brush strokes and tonality speak for themselves but let’s take a deeper dive.

First, we have to remember that Fantin-Latour painted during the mid 19th century so his materials were limited and still handmade by the artists and artisans themselves. They were most likely able to source materials or buy brushes from local merchants in the 1800’s but try to imagine different colored pigments and an assortment of brushes with wild animals fur and cloth sold for use as a canvas.

I decided to replicate “Still Life with Mustard Pot”, 1860 so I laid out a palette of colors from that time period. The deep yellow cad and burnt sienna hue in the background are the most saturated tones in the entire painting. No modern, highly saturated colors were used and muted down because the shade and tone will be even more distant from the tones Latour could produce. I also want to know if their are specific color mixes I don’t realize until I have to remix the same tones he made. It also shows the intelligence and attention to detail of professionals from this pre impressionist era.

The composition is so different that most of his work in terms of complexity. The simplified set up forced him to find a more complex angle for the table, and in turn, all three utensils are arranged to add energy to the composition. In a standard frontal composition, the spoon would be hidden by the knife and neither would produce the same interest view in parallel with the table and plates. It is said that Monet made fun of his figurative work and it embarrassed him so much he focused on still life and landscape work more heavily. When looking at his work, you don’t assume this the case, but it is important to not let such comments effect you as you pursue your artistic expression.


Don't Just make Art for Art Shows/Festivals!

This message is very important to me. I think this is something every self-proclaimed professional artist must overcome before others agree that they have reached a new height of professionalism. This is the key to making this shift whether you make weird art, have no sales as of now, or make performance and political art.

You must make art every day. 35 hours a week. NOT 35 hours if I can or if I’m feeling it. You must take this on as a full time job. Many artists I meet only make art when they have an art show coming up. If they feel some kind of monetary pressure or personal goal to of the show, they will make 20 mediocre paintings in 2 months in order to fill the space. Then the downward cycle begins again.

  1. The artist makes 20 new paintings for the theme of their art show.

  2. Only one painting sold and the artist assumes it was a pity purchase. Three people laughed at the prices in front of them, knowing they were the artist.

  3. The artist goes home with their 19 paintings and they decide they don’t feel inspired enough to make art for 3 months.

  4. A year later the artist enters a new art show and repeats the process over again, whist never promoting their older work, improving their older work, (yes it is okay to continue painting old paintings if no nostalgia is stopping you) or making new work.

The constant honing of your craft is the same reason kids go to school day after day. Learning has to happen in such small chunks of time for us, it will take us roughly 10,000+ hours or a decade of deliberate practice and study to attain a mastery over any skill. So don’t just try to make art for art shows. The real secret is that you sell most of your work IN BETWEEN art shows. When people are ready and can afford a bigger purchase. Unfortunately, they don’t make money on our time scale. So don’t give up and continue to make great work.