Who should be my next featured artist and what the next featured painting should be are the decisions I have to make each day. Often I will make my choice when I flick through one of my art books or maybe I will be inspired by an artist or painting I have seen on one of my gallery visits but often or not the decision will come from research I have made into a previous painting. My Daily Art Display featured artist and painting today comes from a little bit of all those. In my last blog I looked at Manet’s Music at the Tuileries Gardens and listed a number of Manet’s friends the artist had added into his work. One of these was the floral painter Henri Fantin-Latour. Last week when I was wandering around the National Gallery in London I stood before one of his non-floral paintings entitled Mr and Mrs Edwin Edwards and my curiosity was immediately pricked. Who were Mr and Mrs Edwards and why should this French artist paint the portraits of this English couple? I knew then that sooner or later I had to feature this painting in one of my blogs and do some research into the background behind the work and the sitters. So come with me on this journey of discovery and find out more about this couple.
Edwin Edwards was born in the small market town of Framlington in the heart of the Suffolk countryside in 1823. He was the youngest of four sons of Charles Edwards and Mary Kersey. He was educated at Dedham in Essex and went on to study law. He became a legal practitioner in the admiralty and prerogative courts attaining the impressive position of King’s Proctor and Examiner of the Courts of Civil Law and the High Court of Admiralty. When he was twenty-four he published a book entitled A treatise on the jurisdiction of the High Court of Admiralty of England. In 1852 he married Elizabeth Ruth Escombe. The couple had no children. Despite having a busy and lucrative legal career Edwin Edwards had a great love for art and in 1861, aged thirty-eight years of age and with support from his wife, he decided to forego his legal career and become a full time artist.
Edwin Edwards had started painting using the medium of watercolours but later moved on to oil painting. However his real love was etching and he had been influenced by the French artist and etcher Alphonse Legros. He installed a press at his house in Sunbury, where his wife Ruth became skilled at printing. During the 1860s and 70s their home was a meeting place for French and British painters and etchers. It was whilst he was in Paris to arrange for the printing of his first plates that he was introduced to Henri Fantin-Latour by the English painter Matthew White Ridley. Edwards and Fantin-Latour soon became great friends and the French artist would visit London and stay with the Edwards family in their Sudbury home. Edwin Edwards and his wife bought many of Henri Fantin-Latour’s flower paintings, and found other buyers among their wealthy circle of friends thus securing the French artist a regular and steady income. Between 1864 and 1896 Fantin-Latour painted over 800 floral portraits, and almost all were purchased in England.
In 1861 Edwards made an etching trip along the River Thames with James McNeil Whistler, Fantin-Latour and Whistler’s brother-in-law, Francis Seymour Hayden, an English surgeon, who later dedicated his life to etching and printmaking and it was during this trip that Edwin Edwards completed a portrait of Whistler sketching, seated, at Molesey lock. In all, Edwards completed over three hundred and fifty etchings consisting of scenes of the Thames at Sunbury, English cathedral cities, the wild Cornish coast, and countryside scenes in Suffolk, many of which are now housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. He also published a three-volume work entitled ‘Old Inns of England,’ which were illustrated with a number of his etchings.
From 1861 until his death in 1879, aged 56, he was a prolific exhibitor of his work. He exhibited fifty four works at the Royal Academy and over a hundred of his works at various other exhibitions.
My Daily Art Display featured painting is simply entitled Mr and Mrs Edwin Edwards by Henri Faintin-Latour. The painting belongs to the Tate but is presently on loan to the National Gallery, London. When Fantin-Latour first visited and stayed with Edwards and his wife in 1861 he began a portrait of Mrs Edwards but did not finish it until three years later when he again stayed with the couple. It was not until the end of 1874 that Fantin-Latour embarked on the double portrait of Edwin Edwards and his wife and the couple visited his Paris studio for the formal sittings. He wrote to Edwards and said that he intended to portray him, seated at a table in his studio, etching. The background would have a number of canvases on the wall and that his wife would be portrayed standing behind him, overseeing his work, like a “guardian angel, the inspiring Muse”. In reality the painting was much simpler than Fantin-Latour had originally envisaged. The background as you see is plain and not adorned with other paintings. Instead of being depicted etching, Edwin Edwards is seen seated at an angle with his left arm resting on a folio of prints whilst studying an etching he holds in his right hand. Mrs Edwards as was Fantin-Latour’s original idea stands behind her husband. Does she look like a guardian angel? It is hard to interpret her mood. It seems one of aloofness and displeasure and seems somewhat unhappy with the situation. I think she actually dominates the double portrait and would some up her appearance as “she who must be obeyed” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Henri Fantin-Latour exhibited the work in the Paris Salon of 1875 and it gained a second class medal. This award was very beneficial to Fantin-Latour because from then on he was termed by the Paris Salon as hors concours, which meant that in future, any exhibits he put forward for inclusion at future Salon exhibitions did not have to first be passed by the Salon jury.