In 1862, Bazille arrived in Paris to study both medicine, at his parents' insistence, and art, his preference. He joined the academic teaching studio run by Charles Gleyre, where he met Monet, Renoir, and Sisley. Attracted by the modernist tendencies of avant–garde art, the four abandoned the studio in favor of direct observation of nature. Working in close harmony, they gradually invented impressionism. Bazille's output was cut short when he was killed in 1870 during the Franco–Prussian War.
Early in the summer of 1870, before the outbreak of war, Bazille painted two similar works depicting a black woman with a lush array of flowers. Avoiding anecdotal specificity, the woman in the National Gallery painting is posed as a vendor extending a clutch of peonies chosen from her basket laden with seasonal blooms. The proffered peonies, flowers cultivated by Manet and the subject of a series of still lifes he painted in 1864–1865, are firmly portrayed in a manner reminiscent of Manet. Extending his modest tribute to the debonair leader of the avant–garde, Bazille's composition also alludes to one of Manet's most celebrated and notorious works, Olympia (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), in which a black servant offers a floral tribute to a naked prostitute.
upper right: F. Bazille. / 1870
Given by the artist to Edmond Maître [d. 1898]; Gaston Maître; given 1913 to the artist's brother, Marc Bazille; the artist's nephew, Frédéric Bazille, Montpellier, France, by 1935 until at least 1959. (Wildenstein, London, New York, and Paris); sold October 1963 to Paul Mellon, Upperville, VA; gift 1983 to NGA.
- Frederic Bazille, Association des Etudiants Protestants de Paris, Paris, 1935, no. 12, repro.
- Centenaire de Frédéric Bazille, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 1941, no. 33
- Bazille, Wildenstein, Paris, 1950, no. 55
- Mostra di Capolavori Della Pittura Francese Dell'Ottocento, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 1955, no. 2, repro.
- Frédéric Bazille, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 1959, no. 37
- French Paintings from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon and Mrs. Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, no. 113, repro., as Negro Girl with Peonies.
- Gifts to the Nation: Selected Acquisitions from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1986, unnumbered checklist
- Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad; State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 1986, no. 1, repro.
- Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from American Collections", The Baltimore Museum of Art; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1999-2000, no. 2, repro.
- Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The National Art Center, Tokyo; Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, 2011, no. 2, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 38, repro.
- Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 280, color repro.
- Daulte, François. Frédéric Bazille et les débuts de l'impressionisme. Paris, 1992:no. 60, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 188, repro.
- Bajou, Valérie. Frédéric Bazille 1841-1870. Aix-en-Provence, 1993:175,177-178, repro. 167
- Schulman, Michel. Frédéric Bazille 1841-1870: Catalogue raisonné. Paris, 1995:no. 61, repro.
- Pitman, Dianne W. Bazille: Purity, Pose, and Painting in the 1860s. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998: 179-193, repro. no. 118.