By the time this work was painted in 1897, middle- to upper-class European women’s lives had begun to radically change. Nowhere was this truer than in Paris, the city that was the center for modern ideas, art, culture, and literature. No longer largely confined to the home, women worked in offices and shops or achieved the right to attend university or college. Imagery of the so-called “New Woman”—a term coined by Irish writer Sarah Grand but popularized by American writer Henry James—was evident in Art Nouveau advertising posters visible throughout the city. These new roles also involved changes in activity and dress. Women sought freedom from tight, corseted dresses and instead embraced looser, free-flowing gowns, like the ones worn by the women in this painting. Actively involved in a leisurely pursuit of collecting flowers from blossoming trees, the women also display a carefree and relaxed attitude, reveling in their freedom.
Exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1897, Albert-Émile Artigue’s Spring Flowers was an instant success with both the press and the public. It was so popular that it was reproduced as a print, which many could afford to buy and keep as a souvenir. Artigue was born in Buenos Aires, the son of French parents. His father was Federico Artigue, a painter and photographer. By 15, the younger Artigue was living in France, where he would begin his studies at the École Régionale des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux. He would complete his training in Paris, and most importantly, study with Alexandre Cabanel. His paintings predominantly featured women of the belle époque, themes of which continued in his engravings, lithographs, and posters.