Henri Fantin-Latour 1836-1904
N01952 Mr and Mrs Edwin Edwards 1875
Inscribed 'à | mon ami | E. Edwards | Fantin | 1875' t.r.
Oil on canvas, 51 1/2 x 38 5/8 (130.5 x 98)
Presented by Mrs Edwin Edwards to the National Gallery 1904; transferred 1954
Prov: Mr and Mrs Edwin Edwards, Sunbury and London
Exh: Paris Salon, May-June 1875 (784); Exposition Générale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, August-October 1875 (459); RA, London, May-August 1876 (86); Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Kgl. Glaspalast, Munich, July-October 1879 (265); Exposition Centennale (Exposition Universelle), Paris, May-November 1889 (338)
Lit<: Ph. Burty, 'Edwin Edwards. Peintre de Paysages et Aquafortiste' in L'Art, IV, 1879, pp.170-2; Duranty, 'Edwin Edwards, Peintre et Aquafortiste' in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, November 1879, pp.439-40; Adolphe Jullien, Fantin-Latour: sa Vie et ses Amitiés (Paris 1909), pp.20-6, 38-40, 45-6, 76-7, 86-7, 92-3, repr. facing p.84; Mme Fantin-Latour, Catalogue de l'Oeuvre Complet (1849-1904) de Fantin-Latour (Paris 1911), No.738, p.81; Frank Gibson, The Art of Henri Fantin-Latour (London n.d.), pp.54-60, 92, 178, repr. p.69; Martin Davies, National Gallery Catalogue of the French School (London 1946), p.45
Repr: Burlington Magazine, VI, 1905, p.493; Edward Lucie-Sinith, Fantin-Latour (Oxford 1977), pl.32
With his wife's encouragement, he gave up a large and successful practice as a lawyer to devote his time to art, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy from 1861 to 1879 (there is one of his pictures in the Tate Gallery [N01690]). His particular passion was etching, which he had begun under the influence of Legros, and it was while in Paris in 1861 to arrange for the printing of his first plates that he was introduced to Fantin by the English painter Matthew White Ridley. The two were soon on very friendly terms and when Fantin visited England later the same year he accepted an invitation to spend a month with Mr and Mrs Edwards at Sunbury-on-Thames; he also stayed with them when he came to England again in 1864. During his first visit in 1861 he began a portrait of Mrs Edwards in a white dress which he left unfinished at the time of his departure and completed in 1864; it is now in the Petit Palais in Paris (Mme Fantin-Latour No.236). And in 1864 he also made an etching, 'A Piece by Schumann', of Edwin Edwards playing the flute and Mrs Edwards accompanying him at the piano (Mme Fantin-Latour No.262; G. Hédiard, Fantin-Latour, Catalogue de l'Oeuvre Lithographique du Maître, Paris 1906, Appendix No.2).
The project to paint a double portrait of Mr and Mrs Edwards is described by Fantin in a letter to Edwin Edwards of 26 November 1874. His original intention was to depict Edwards seated at his etching table, etching with the tools, and Mrs Edwards standing beside him 'like a guardian angel', the inspiring Muse; there would be a background of a studio, with canvases, frames, etc. The portrait, which was painted in Fantin's studio in Paris, 8 Rue des Beaux-Arts, is however rather simpler: there is a plain background and Edwards is shown with one arm resting on a folio of prints, studying an etching. When it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1875 it was awarded a second class medal, which meant that Fantin, whose works had earlier been rejected on several occasions, was henceforth hors concours, and could exhibit works without submitting them to the Jury.
Later, in 1879, he made a drawing of Edwin Edwards after part of this picture (Mme Fantin-Latour No.972), and in 1892 a similar lithograph of Edwin Edwards alone which was published in The Albemarle, June 1892 (Mme Fantin-Latour No.1494; G. Hédiard No.102).
Edwin Edwards began in 1871 to act as an English agent for Fantin and was able to sell a number of his still lifes to English collectors. This friendly business relationship, which was continued by Mrs Edwards after her husband's death, did much to establish Fantin's reputation in this country and to relieve him of his financial worries.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.216-17, reproduced p.216