Vase of Flowers and Conch Shell

Anne Vallayer-Coster (French, Paris 1744–1818 Paris)

Oil on canvas
Oval, 19 3/4 x 15 in. (50.2 x 38.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1906
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    A leading exponent of still life painting, Vallayer-Coster joined the French Academy in 1770. She was patronized before the revolution by Marie Antoinette and later by the Empress Josephine.

    This picture can perhaps be identified with one of "three small oval paintings of flowers and fruits" exhibited in the Salon of 1781. Diderot commented upon the truthfulness of her work. Notice the play of light on the porcelain and gilt of the vase and the iridescent sheen of the shell.

  • Catalogue Entry

    Anne Vallayer's father was a goldsmith at the Gobelins tapestry manufactory in Paris and she lived in the Gobelins complex for the first decade of her life. It has been suggested that she studied under Joseph Vernet (1714–1789). She was received into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1770 on the strength of two still life paintings representing attributes of the arts and of music (both in the Musée du Louvre, Paris). Although her work is characterized by a brighter palette and more detailed description, her still lifes bear vivid witness to the influence of Jean Siméon Chardin (1699–1779). She married Jean Pierre Silvestre Coster in 1781. From 1771 to 1817 she exhibited frequently at the Salon. She enjoyed favorable critical opinion throughout her career, as well as the prestigious patronage of both Queen Marie Antoinette (1755–1793) before the Revolution and Empress Josephine (1763–1814) afterwards.

    Here Vallayer-Coster juxtaposes a pink conch shell with a vase of colorful flowers. The painting demonstrates an interest in texture and reflection, in the play of light on different surfaces, such as the porcelain and gilt of the vase and the iridescent sheen of the shell. It is signed at bottom right "Mlle Vallayer" and may be one of three small oval paintings of flowers and fruits that she exhibited at the Salon of 1781. Vallayer-Coster often painted flowers, especially the anemones and marguerites depicted here; the shell is an unusual inclusion. She was not only a painter of flowers, but of a wide range of still life subjects, from food to military instruments, as well as portraits and genre scenes.


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): Mlle Vallayer / 1780

  • Provenance

    Monsieur Cournerie, Paris (until 1891; his estate sale, Féral, Paris, December 8–9, 1891, no. 23, for Fr 700); Georges Hoentschel, Paris (until 1906; sold to Morgan); J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1906)

  • Exhibition History

    Paris. Salon. 1781, no. 105 [one of three still-lifes by Vallayer-Coster exhibited under this number].

    North Salem, New York. Hammond Museum. "Women in Art," November 8–December 22, 1974, no catalogue?

    Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University. "Circa 1776," November 1–24, 1976, unnumbered cat. (p. 35).

    Syracuse, New York. Everson Museum of Art. "Flower Paintings," September 14–October 21, 1979, no catalogue?

    Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Anne Vallayer-Coster: Painter to the Court of Marie-Antoinette," June 30–September 22, 2002, no. 61.

    Dallas Museum of Art. "Anne Vallayer-Coster: Painter to the Court of Marie-Antoinette," October 13, 2002–January 5, 2003, no. 61.

    New York. The Frick Collection. "Anne Vallayer-Coster: Painter to the Court of Marie-Antoinette," January 21–March 23, 2003, no. 61.

  • References

    Denis Diderot. Salon de 1781. 1781 [published in Ref. Seznec 1967, p. 365], comments on a group of three oval still-lifes by Mme Vallayer-Coster: "Il y a de la vérité, mais la touche est molle et froide; rien de la finesse particulière de dessin et de pinceau que ce genre exige".

    André Pératé and Gaston Brière. "XVIIIe siècle." Collections Georges Hoentschel. 3, Paris, 1908, colorpl. 136.

    Charles Sterling. "XV–XVIII Centuries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. 1, Cambridge, Mass., 1955, p. 179, ill., identifies the picture as one of three ovals exhibited under number 105 in the 1781 Salon.

    Denis Diderot. "1769, 1771, 1775, 1781." Salons. 4, Oxford, 1967, pp. 324, 365, no. 106 [sic for 105], fig. 150, agree with Sterling.

    Marianne Roland Michel. Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1744–1818. Paris, 1970, pp. 125, 269, no. 67, ill. p. 121, adds the 1891 Cournerie sale to the picture's provenance.

    Michel Faré and Fabrice Faré. La vie silencieuse en France: La nature morte au XVIIIe siècle. Fribourg, Switzerland, 1976, pp. 229–30, ill.

    Claire Barry in Anne Vallayer-Coster. Exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art. New Haven, 2002, pp. 96, 107.

    Eik Kahng in Eik Kahng and Marianne Roland Michel. Anne Vallayer-Coster: Painter to the Court of Marie-Antoinette. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington. Dallas, 2002, pp. 50–51, 206–7, no. 61, ill. (color, overall and details), describes the flowers as "almost clinically precise" but also comments on the application of unblended color elsewhere in the picture.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History