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Fantin received his artistic education at a very young age from his father Théodore, himself a portrait painter. Encouraged by the latter, in 1853 he began to copy the work of the Old Masters, including Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin, Velasquez, Chardin and Delacroix, an activity he found very satisfying, since, on the one hand, he regarded it as an act of devotion towards the great masters, and on the other, it stirred up in him the hope that he himself might one day create such masterpieces.
Fantin revealed himself first of all in his single (Edouard Manet, Charlotte Dubourg) and group portraits (Hommage à Delacroix, L’Atelier des Batignolles). But his art contained other forms of expression: the still-life and the poetic composition. If his still-lifes testify to his realist sentiment, as his portraits do, then his imaginative compositions reveal an unreal and magical world, populated mainly by nymphs dressed in veils.
A number of these works were inspired by his passion for music and composers, especially Wagner, Schumann and Berlioz, from whom he borrowed themes. While he was closely aligned with the Impressionists, he always worked away from fashionable artistic movements, disassociating himself through his traditional craft, his reserve and his often somber harmonies.