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Flowers, 1870-80

Adolphe-Joseph-Thomas Monticelli

French, 1824-1886
Oil on panel
24-1/2 x 19 in. (62.2 x 48.3 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

Not on view

Floral still lifes became immensely popular with realist and Impressionist painters of the 19th century because they presented the opportunity to experiment with color, light and form as well as theme. Monticelli, a native of Marseille, took a lively interest in developing the subject, employing a free technique, a rich palette and heavy textures. Many of his contemporaries admired his “ability to transform raw pigment into ‘jewels’ or ‘gems’”; their praise was so effusive as to suggest he possessed alchemical powers. Less sympathetic critics, however, decried Monticelli’s work as crude and rough, compared his impastoed surfaces to relief models and mockingly accused the artist of using a trowel to lay down his paint. In clinging to a standard that privileged a smooth, highly finished facture, his detractors closed their eyes to the buttery, tactile effects of Monticelli’s surfaces and to the world of suggestion rather than description that his abstracted application presented. This master’s work was a great source of inspiration to the next generation of artists, including Cézanne and van Gogh.

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