Art Saturday: Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
Upon presentation of The Ray in 1728, he was admitted to the Acadèmie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. …Chardin’s work had little in common with the Rococo painting that dominated French art in the 18th century. At a time when history painting was considered the supreme classification for public art, Chardin’s subjects of choice were viewed as minor categories. He favored simple yet beautifully textured still lifes, and sensitively handled domestic interiors and genre paintings. Simple, even stark, paintings of common household items (Still Life with a Smoker’s Box) and an uncanny ability to portray children’s innocence in an unsentimental manner (Boy with a Top [below]) nevertheless found an appreciative audience in his time, and account for his timeless appeal.
Largely self-taught, he was greatly influenced by the realism and subject matter of the 17th-century Low Country masters. Despite his unconventional portrayal of the ascendant bourgeoisie, early support came from patrons in the French aristocracy, including Louis XV. Though his popularity rested initially on paintings of animals and fruit, by the 1730s he introduced kitchen utensils into his repertoire (The Copper Cistern, ca.1735, Louvre). Soon figures populated his scenes as well, supposedly in response to a portrait painter who challenged him to take up the genre. At any event, he was presently painting half-length compositions of children saying grace, as in Le Bènèdicitè, and kitchen maids in moments of reflection. These humble scenes deal with simple, everyday activities, yet they also have functioned as a source of documentary information about a level of French society not hitherto considered a worthy subject for painting. The pictures are noteworthy for their formal structure and pictorial harmony.
In 1756 he returned to the subject of the still life. In the 1770s his eyesight weakened and he took to painting in pastels, a medium in which he executed portraits of his wife and himself.
Chardin’s paintings are often used as prints by decorators, his subdued tones and subjects much in conformity with interiors that are calm and lend themselves to easy living.