Acquisition: Anne Vallayer-Coster
The National Gallery of Art has acquired an important painting by Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744–1818), Still Life with Flowers in an Alabaster Vase and Fruit (1783). One of the greatest still life painters of 18th-century France, Vallayer-Coster achieved remarkable success in the male-dominated art world of her time. She not only attracted the patronage of some of the most powerful collectors of the time, including Marie Antoinette, but she also became one of the few women to be admitted to the prestigious Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture and to show her work at its official public exhibition, the Salon.
Still Life with Flowers in an Alabaster Vase and Fruit is the first painting by Vallayer-Coster to enter the National Gallery's collection. Despite the limited access to training and patronage, women artists achieved unprecedented professional opportunities and success in the latter half of the 18th century. Vallayer-Coster, alongside Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, is now the second woman artist represented in the National Gallery's collection of 18th-century French paintings. This masterpiece not only fills out a more complete story of this pivotal period in European art history, but also highlights the accomplishments of one of its most significant artists.
One of Vallayer-Coster’s most ambitious works, this painting showcases her unrivaled ability to capture the soft, delicate textures of flowers and to coordinate their dazzling colors and irregular shapes into a harmonious whole. When it was exhibited at the Salon of 1783, critics hailed Still Life with Flowers in an Alabaster Vase and Fruit as a masterpiece. Vallayer-Coster herself considered it her finest painting, and she kept it until her death. Lost for nearly 200 years, this extraordinary work was recently rediscovered in an almost pristine state of preservation: unlined, on its original stretcher, and in the Louis XVI frame in which it was likely exhibited.
Depicting an opulent bouquet brimming with meticulously studied and exquisitely rendered flowers, this work includes roses, irises, lilacs, carnations, hollyhocks, dahlias, bluebells, and hydrangeas, among others, that create a dazzling display of color against the rich, chocolate brown scumbling of the background. The flowers sit in an alabaster vase adorned with French gilt-bronze mounts, featuring a child satyr supporting a cornucopia of fruits and flowers. Resting on an elaborately carved and gilded mahogany table with a pale gray marble top, the vase and flowers are completed by a bunch of white grapes, a pineapple, and three peaches. Evoking the cool polish of marble and alabaster, the glistening surface of cast-bronze, the translucency of grapes, the spiky form of a pineapple, the velvety skin of peaches, and the delicate freshness of flower petals, the painting epitomizes Vallayer-Coster's extraordinary skill in portraying colors and textures.
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