Sunday, July 27, 2014

Anne Vallayer-Coster: The Greatest Still-Life Painter Who Ever Lived

Anne Vallayer-Coster is certainly a first class still-life painter.  She was a contemporary of Jean- Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, who recognized her exceptional talent. Her great skills were endorsed by  Marie Antoinette officially in 1780, when she received the title of "Painter to the Queen".  Her celebrity generated strong interest from many notable collectors and critics. 

"The Attributes of Painting and Sculpture" by Anne Vallayer Coster, 1769
Anne Vallayer-Coster was the daughter of a goldsmith, who was a master at the Gobelins Manufactory.  His name appears in the register of gifts from the king to important officials, where he was acknowledged as the person responsible for decorations on gold enamel boxes.

Anne Vallayer-Coster's art training is somewhat of a debate and conclusions are made by her associations with certain people. It is very likely that she studied with Joseph Vernet, well known for his marine paintings.   She owned 27 works by him and he owned works by her. Madeleine Basseport is another artist, that is presumed a teacher of Anne Vallayer-Coster because of stylistic similarities. To learn more about Anne Vallayer-Coster's possible and likely mentor, Madeleine Basseport, visit:

Anne Vallayer-Coster was admitted into the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1770 in a single reception, with notable Academicians, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Joseph Marie-Vien (director of the Academy), Joseph Vernet, Alexandre Roslin and Hubert Robert serving as witnesses.  In 1771 she exhibited several works in the Royal Salon.  Her work received high praise, even from the great philosopher and critic, Diderot, who stated that "If all new members made a showing like Mademoiselle Vallayer's, and sustained the same high level of quality there, the Salon would look very different".1   The following two paintings were exhibited in the Salon of 1771:

"The Attributes of Music" by Anne Vallayer Coster, 1770, Louvre Museum, Paris

"The White Soup Tureen" by AnneVallayer-Coster, 1771, Private Collection, Paris

In a letter dated April 9, 1779 (with the Queen's support and endorsement) Anne Vallayer was awarded lodging at the Louvre Palace.  She was the only woman artist to have been granted this privilege.  Adelaide Labille-Guiard was denied this privilege many times, "because of her sex" the real reason being that she was a teacher to many young females and this would cause a great distraction to the male art students in the Galeries du Louvre.

Anne Vallayer Coster did venture into portraiture, but encountered scathing reviews of her work in the 1785 Salon, where she was compared to portraitists, Adelaide Labille-Guiard and Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun.  The result was Anne Vallayer-Coster decided to focus on still-life painting.  Here is an example of one of Anne Vallayer's portraits:

"Joseph-Charles Roettiers" by Anne Vallayer Coster, 1777, Chateau de Versailles

Flower paintings were one of Coster's great strengths.  She was praised for their exquisite richness.  If you look at them closely you can see that there are technical similarities between Vallayer Coster's paintings and those of one of the greatest flower painters of all time, Henri Fantin- Latour.

The following are examples of Anne Vallayer-Coster Flower paintings:

"Vase of Flowers with Bust of Flora" by Anne Vallayer Coster, 1774, photography

"Roses in a Glass and Grapes, by Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1804, Private Collection

"Flowers in a Crystal Vase" by Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1789, Private Collection

Here is a painting by Henri Fantin Latour:

"Vase of Peonies" by Henri Fantin-Latour, 1881. Honolulu Academy of Arts

Anne Vallayer-Coster's long list of important collectors included:

  • Queen Marie Antoinette
  • Louis-Gabriel de Veri-Raionard--Marquis de Veri 
  • Joseph Marie Terray -Controller-General of Finances during the reign of King Louis XV in France
  • The financier Beaujon - one of the richest men in France during the reign of King Louis the XV, who lent millions to the government during the Seven Years' War
  • The prince de Conti

In 1781 she marries a powerful lawyer and member of the parliament, J.P. Silvestre Coster, their wedding ceremony is held at Versailles and their marriage contract is signed by Queen Marie Antoinette herself.  When the French Revolution began in 1789 she did not exhibit in the Salon.  She lost her greatest patron when Queen Marie Antoinette was executed in 1793. Her last painting exhibited at the 1817 Salon was"Table with Lobster Fruit and Game".  Her following 1781 painting has a similar theme, you can see how beautifully she depicted the lobster :

"Still Life with Lobster" by Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1781 Toledo Museum of Art, purchased with funds from the Libby Endowment
For more of Anne Vallayer-Coster's work visit:

An excellent Monograph on Anne Vallayer-Coster:
"Anne Vallayer-Coster Painter to the Court of Marie Antoinette" , Eik Kahng and Marianne Roland Michel

1.  "Anne Vallayer-Coster Painter to the Court of Marie Antoinette" , Eik Kahng and Marianne Roland Michel, pg 17,  note #41 taken from: Seznec and Adhemar , 1957-1967, 4:202

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