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Anne Vallayer Coster: Snooping In her Inspiring Life & Art

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Anne Vallayer Coster
Still Life with Mackerel by Anne Vallayer Coster | Source: Kimbell Art Museum

Earlier, when I began to write an article on some of the greatest still-life paintings, I thought that, unlike history paintings, they might not be strenuous to understand, but I was amazed to be proved wrong when I learnt about them. Though they might look simple, these have overriding considerations which artists took care of while painting one still life, like excellent lighting, symbolism, perspective, a blend of emotions and surety of visual pleasure. For instance, an imperfect coffee table with a beautiful vase of flowers can lead to a languishing meaning of life or declare the artist's vision or message of her life through the canvas. Therefore, you might not see the true meaning behind a still life right away, and it is only possible to learn about it entirely after you have a good perception, which makes it one of the crucial genres of art to study. Going back to history, as I mentioned earlier in my articles, the status of still life paintings improved dramatically in France from the seventeenth to the eighteenth centuries. Furthermore, Holland was a hotbed for still life art at the same time, which made artists create many subgenres, like breakfast still lifes, flowers, lunch etc. Now, as you understand the significance and vogue of still life paintings, it is worth noticing that it was majorly women artists of the eighteenth century who invented new genres, including still lifes, which also contributed to the popularity of the Rococo style. And one such female artist inspired by these events in the aesthetic climate of the eighteenth century was Anne Vallayer Coster, which we are learning about today.

It is unquestionably faithful that Anne Vallayer Coster was one of the most talented, versatile and successful still life painters of the 18th century. In the still-life genre, she does not limit herself to just a few divisions, but extends her variety of artworks, from simple groups of humble kitchen objects to elaborate compositions of exotic things and arrangements of flowers. Particularly renowned for her flower bouquets, Anne's technical abilities were often appreciated by her contemporaries. In 1771, a highly influential critic Diderot wrote that no other artist than Anne possessed such an equal force of colour and assurance.

Early Life of the Artist.

Born into a family of artisan craftsmen, her father was a goldsmith who worked for the Gobelins tapestry factory. He was able to establish an independent shop which, after his sudden death, his wife ran. Hence, Anne was raised in an environment filled with creativity and dedication, which helped her to cultivate her talents. There is no information on her early training, but little do we know that she was an accomplished artist by her early twenties. At first, she was into portraiture but soon discovered that still-life painting was her true calling. After she was accepted into the Royal art academy at the age of twenty-six, which was more than an accomplishment and rare honour for a woman, it formed a decisive step in her career. She showcased her works at the Salon in the Louvre.

Anne Vallayer Coster Self Portrait
Anne Vallayer Coster Self-portrait | Source: Alexander Roslin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Her successful professional career enabled her to have a good social status. Hence in 1781, at the late age of 37, she married a wealthy lawyer and a member of parliament, Jean Pierre Silvestre Coster, which represented an advanced class status for a goldsmith's daughter.

Now, there is one noteworthy event in her life, which to some extent, suffered her reputation towards art. It was the comparison of her work with those of Chardin by Diderot. However, Diderot was also the one whose discussion of her work brought her major patrons and broader attention. One can not deny the fact that there were similarities in subjects and compositions between some of the still lifes of the two artists. However, it was a general characteristic of the national and period style in this genre, and it does not indicate that her paintings were less innovative and exemplary than Chardin's.

Vallayer's still life artworks encompass a range of motifs, like bouquets of roses in previous porcelain and antique statues, fruits rising in pyramids from baskets and steam from exquisite teacups.

The Virtual Gallery Exhibiting Anne Vallayer Coster Paintings.

One of Anne Vallayer Coster paintings was the Allegory of Music, which is often compared with Chardin's Attributed of Music. In both of the works, the choice and selection of objects like a musical instrument, music stand, sheet music and a partially burnt candle are similar. However, submitting to such an extensive work indicates her ambitious attempt to rival Chardin on the elevated level of a complex and allegorical still-life. Though similar objects, there are significant differences. Allegory of Music painting, for instance, shows a clear diagonal movement from left to right. Lute, violin, and flute were like linear elements leading the viewer's eye back into space. Furthermore, the diagonal-position of the table reinforces the spatial recession in the artwork. Each of the objects has been selected and positioned in an effort to increase the compositional unity and enhance its dynamic organization. In addition, through the usage of a controlled technique, there are no visible brushstrokes, allowing a more accurate description of the surface of objects.

Attributes of Music by Anne Vallayer Coster
Attributes of Music by Anne Vallayer Coster | Source: Anne Vallayer-Coster, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In another painting, The White Soup Bowl, Anne painted a study in shades of white. There are different tones and textures of the porcelain bowl, the linen cloth, and the translucent steam from the soup in the illustration. The composition is simple, but the subtle play of horizontal, vertical and diagonal linear accents achieves a satisfying balance. It displays the extreme technical ability of the artist to control and finesse while conveying tangibility and immediacy. The still life painting looks as if someone will soon lift the ladle, and serve the broth and bread to the viewer with extreme perfection to the steam of soup.

White soup bowl Anne Vallayer Coster artwork
White soup bowl by Anne Vallayer Coster | Source:

In the composition, Still Life with Ham, Bottles and Radishes, Anne Vallayer Coster painted a ham with a knife to cut one of its slices with its generous layer of fat and crust. There is a smooth and reflecting glass of the carafe with a leathery appearance of the laurel leaves and the fineness of the radish roots, matt surface of the stone and irregular texture of the ham, keenly observed and rendered with different brush strokes and appliances. The composition includes diagonal lines through the knife position and a sprig of laurel, making it seem almost more than real. The wine bottle has a usual clarity alongside the extraordinary brightness of the white folded cloth on the table. Visually pleasing, the illustration uses lines and shapes effectively to further excel as a still-life. The illustration is one of the earliest works by Anne Vallayer-Coster, which reveals her extraordinary familiarity with simple life arrangements.

Some of her other fine artworks are Garden Still Life, with Implements, Vegetables, Dead Game, and a Bust of Ceres (The Attributes of Hunting and Gardening, Attributes of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture); and Vase of Flowers with a Bust of Flora.

Anne Vallayer Coster paintings Garden Still Life, with Implements, Vegetables, Dead Game, and a Bust of Ceres (The Attributes of Hunting and Gardening, Attributes of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture)
Garden Still Life, with Implements, Vegetables, Dead Game, and a Bust of Ceres (The Attributes of Hunting and Gardening, Attributes of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture) | Source: Anne Vallayer-Coster, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Anne Vallayer Coster paintings Vase of Flowers with a Bust of Flora
Vase of Flowers with a Bust of Flora by Anne Vallayer Coster | Source: Anne Vallayer-Coster, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Still life with a ham Anne Vallayer Coster artwork
Still life with a ham by Anne Vallayer Coster | Source: Anne Vallayer-Coster, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Words.

Anne Vallayer Coster did not limit herself solely to still life paintings but gave her a wide range of genres, including portraits, miniatures and flower paintings. Out of most of her paintings, the flower compositions imitate a vibrancy through colours and freedom of touch. Surely, she was one of the finest French female artists, who with a blend of her sophisticated taste in composition and technical skills, created masterpieces.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What is Anne Vallayer-Coster known for?

Anne Vallayer-Coster was an 18th-century French artist known for her still-life paintings. She was among the most popular female art makers who got accepted into the Royal art academy at the age of twenty-six and also showcased her works at the Paris Salon.

When was Anne Vallayer-Coster born?

Though there are no documents to support her age precisely, one of the resources shares that she got married at the age of 37 in 1781, which suggests, she must have been born in 1744.

What type of art was Anne Vallayer-Coster made?

While Anne Vallayer-Coster's still life paintings with diagonal movement made her famous, few know that the artist used to draw portraits in early life.

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