This charming still life, created just two years after John La Farge took up painting, is primarily a study of color and light. La Farge beautifully renders the effects of sunlight on the white curtain by blending an innovative mix of colors—peach, creamy white, and a light, green-tinged gray—to capture the subtleties of shadow, contour, and light on the fabric. Brushwork, not color or line, distinguishes the curtain from the window ledge and background sky, anticipating modernist art styles such as post-impressionism.
Painted within the year of his marriage to Margaret Mason Perry, Flowers on a Window Ledge may also express the artist's romantic sentiments. Such an interpretation was not lost on critics of the time, one of whom wrote that La Farge's flowers were "burning with love, beauty, and sympathy . . . their language is of the heart, and they talk to us of human love." The setting proves meaningful as well, as the canvas was painted from the window of Hessian House, a Rhode Island inn where La Farge and his wife stayed during the early years of their marriage. Moreover, the white curtain fabric visually evokes a bridal gown; the bowl of pink and red flowers, a bouquet; and the interior setting, the domesticity of marriage.
After a serious illness and a period of financial stress in 1866, the artist stopped producing still-life paintings. When he resumed working, he turned to mural painting and decorative stained glass, considered more conventional artistic practices at the time.
lower center: La Farge
(Doll and Richards Gallery, Boston); purchased September 1874 by George Baty Blake, Boston; by descent 1884 to his son, George Baty Blake, Jr., Boston, until about 1905; (Walter Rowlands Gallery, Boston); sold 1912 to Daniel Merriman, Worcester; his wife, Mrs. Daniel Merriman [née Helen Bigelow], by 1914; her son, Roger Bigelow Merriman, by 1936; his widow, Mrs. Roger Merriman; (Victor Spark and Macbeth Gallery, New York), 1947; purchased 1949 by Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- Century Association, New York, May 1874, no. 26 of unpublished checklist, as Vase of Flowers.
- Summer Exhibition, Doll and Richards Gallery, Boston, September 1874, no catalogue.
- The Paintings of Mr. John La Farge to be Sold at Auction, Pierce and Company, Boston, 1878, not in catalogue.
- Exhibition of Paintings by John La Farge, Walter Rowlands Gallery, Boston, 1905, no catalogue.
- La Farge Memorial Exhibition, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1910-1911, no catalogue.
- Exhibition of Contemporary American Paintings Owned in Worcester County, Worcester Art Museum, 1914, no. 28, as Bowl of Flowers.
- An Exhibition of the Work of John La Farge, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1946, no. 65, as Roses in a Dish on a Window Ledge with Landscape Background.
- One Hundred and One American Paintings, 1725-1900, Victor D. Spark Studio, New York, 1946, no. 65, as Roses in a Dish on a Window Ledge with Landscape Background.
- John La Farge, 1835-1910, Loan Exhibition, Macbeth Gallery, New York, 1948, no. 38.
- De Gustibus, An Exhibition of American Painting Illustrating a Century of Taste and Criticism, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949, no. 16.
- Nature's Bounty and Man's Delight, Newark Art Museum, 1958, no. 23.
- Past and Present: 250 Years of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, unpublished checklist.
- The American Vision, Paintings 1825-1875, M. Knoedler and Co., New York; Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York; Paul Rosenberg and Co., New York, 1968, no. 31.
- 150 Years of American Still-Life Painting, Coe Kerr Gallery, New York, 1970, no. 30.
- Corcoran [The American Genius]. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1976, unnumbered catalogue.
- American Flower Paintings 1850-1950, American Contemporary Art Galleries, New York, 1978, unnumbered catalogue.
- The Object as Subject: American Still Lifes from the Corcoran Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1978-1979, unpublished checklist.
- Painters of the Humble Truth: Masterpieces of American Still-Life Painting, Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa; Oakland Museum; Baltimore Museum of Art; National Academy of Design, New York, 1981-1982, unnumbered catalogue.
- Reflections of Nature: Flowers in American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1984, unnumbered catalogue.
- The American Still-Life from the Peales to C.A. Meurer, Mansfield Art Center, Ohio, 1985, no. 18.
- Now Reposing in Greenwood Cemetery, Museum of the Borough of Brooklyn, Brooklyn College, 1986, no. 41.
- John La Farge, National Museum of American Art, Washington; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1988, no. 3, as Flowers in a Persian Porcelain Water Bowl (Flowers on a Windowsill).
- Scent of Recollection: The Flower in American Art, St. John's Museum of Art, Wilmington, North Carolina, 1991, no catalogue.
- Nature's Bounty: American Floral Painting, 1835-1935, Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion, Stamford, 1993, unnumbered catalogue.
- Nature Vivante: The Still Lifes of John La Farge, Jordan-Volpe Gallery, New York, 1995, no. 6.
- Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 32 (shown only in Washington).
- The American Evolution: A History through Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008, unpublished checklist.
- American Paintings from the Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 6 June-18 October 2009, unpublished checklist.
- Americans in Florence: Sargent and the American Impressionists, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2012.
- American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
- Strong, Lisa. "John La Farge, Flowers on a Window Ledge." In Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 126-127, 265, repro.