Henri Fantin-Latour, The Two Sisters, 1859
In this painting, the artist made a double portrait of his two sisters. Nathalie, on the left, interrupts her embroidery to look at the artist, and Marie, on the right, continues reading. Their black dresses with white collars seem to be school uniforms. The composition is balanced by two white diagonal lines forming an X shape, made up of the embroidery, Nathalie’s sleeve and Marie’s collar, and of Nathalie’s sleeve, the book, and Marie’s sleeve.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the education of young middle-class girls included domestic arts such as embroidery, in addition to fine arts such as drawing and watercolor painting. Girls went to school, not to find a career, but to become intelligent wives and to become capable of managing a household.
Around the middle of the nineteenth century, many artists reacted against romanticism, which emphasized imaginary and idealized scenes. They made works about daily life, shown just as it was, without embellishment. This movement is called "naturalism" or "realism," even if the artist’s style did not imitate the technical realism favored by the Academy.
Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), the son of a Grenoble painter, attended the School of Fine Arts in Paris. He is considered to be a link between realism and impressionism. His works include still lifes showing the influence of Chardin. He also made many portraits, sometimes in a soft style as in this painting, and sometimes with an almost photographic realism.