This delightful, subtle still life was painted when the artist was only eighteen years old, before he became certain of his profession as a painter. Its subject, a bunch of violets, has precise connotations to the French; men often bought small bouquets of fragrant violets from street vendors as gifts to women. Manet, Morisot, and Cassatt had already depicted them when Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec started this small painting. Given its imagery, the painting could be interpreted as a pictorial offering to a loved one or friend, except for the lack of an inscription and the fact that its first owner, Dr. Viau, was a prominent collector. The background of the painting is a freely brushed field of dark brown "ébauche" (underpainting) over white priming, and the forms of the glass and the flowers appear to have been defined in this paint while it was still wet. The delightfully gestural handling seems to be an attempt by the young painter at a tour de force, but he failed to achieve the elegance and ease of his hero, Edouard Manet, who was creating floral still lifes at the same moment, at the end of his career.
The dimensions of the panel suggest that it, like most of the panel paintings by Georges Seurat, was painted on a cigar-box top. Many vanguard artists liked this material because such panels were readily available and were made of absolutely flat, excellent cured wood. In addition, the relatively small size of these panels allowed them to be packed easily for an outdoor oil sketching adventure.
"Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection," page 85