"The valuable instruction in the art of Chardin" - the French master of still life Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

2 November 1699, the French master of still life Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was born in Paris.
“And as I went indoors to join my mother who had left the window, I did indeed recapture, coming from the warm air outside, that feeling of coolness that I had known long ago at Combray when I went upstairs to my room, but at Venice it was a breeze from the sea that kept the air cool, and no longer upon a little wooden staircase with narrow steps, but upon the noble surfaces of blocks of marble, splashed at every moment by a shaft of greenish sunlight, which to the valuable instruction in the art of Chardin, acquired long ago, added a lesson in that of Veronese. And since at Venice it is to works of art, to things of priceless beauty, that the task is entrusted of giving us our impressions of everyday life, we may sketch the character of this city, using the pretext that the Venice of certain painters is coldly aesthetic in its most celebrated parts, by representing only (let us make an exception of the superb studies of Maxime Dethomas) its poverty-stricken aspects, in the quarters where everything that creates its splendour is concealed, and to make Venice more intimate and more genuine give it a resemblance to Aubervilliers.“ (Marcel Proust “Le Temps Retrouvé“)

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin: "Still Life with Turkey hanged" (around 1730)

A careless remark, casually dropped but not entirely without malice, sometimes moves mountains or, at the very least, can cause a major paradigmatic change. It’s rather easier to paint a sausage than somebody’s likeness after all, the portraitist Jacques “Camelot” (the Hawker) Aved said to the painter of still lifes Chardin with whom he shared a studio and Chardin thought, you ain’t seen nothing yet, you snob, and began to expand the scope of his motifs to the whole kitchen, populate them with the appropriate personnel, left the room, spied and captured other romping grounds of daily life and their common inhabitants and became a chronicler of France’s emerging bourgeoisie of the first half of the 18th century, the grandparents and parents of the children of the revolution. The sujet became rather popular with the aristos who obviously enjoyed to see the things through the mirror of art they refused to notice in their daily routine. A rather revolutionary choice for their otherwise baroque tastes, since Chardin’s refused to imitate and learn from the old masters along with those of the Renaissance and the ancients.

An earlier work of Chardin, showing a somewhat grotesque intruder in otherwise quite orderly kitchen routines, “The Ray” from 1728, now at the Louvre.

Working apart from the mainstream of the day and being, by and large, an autodidact, Chardin with his still lifes and genre paintings rather matches the mood and topics of the artists of the Dutch Golden Age working a hundred years before his time. And still, he is in contrast to those masterpieces he never saw anyway since he never left Paris, even though a strong influence suggests itself. It wasn’t there, except for the same fascination for life in all its colour, or, at the very least, the picturesque surface of ordinariness, visible only to those who are willing to take notice of it. Towards the end of his life, Chardin returned to still lifes again, not because he had exhausted his imagination, but to perfect his approach on everyday objects, arranged in perfect harmony of composition, colours and light. “Who said one paints with colours?” Chardin once said, “One employs colours, but one paints with feeling." No wonder that the modernists loved him and Chardin was looked at as an inspiration from Manet to Cézanne and Braque.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin: "The Attributes of the Arts and the Rewards Which Are Accorded Them" (1766)

And more about Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin on:


A monographic show can be admired on: