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Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin: The Inanimate Beauty

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Chardin: Still Life With Jar of Olives – 1760 – (Public Domain)

It is severely unfortunate that the biography of Chardin will never be privileged with distinctness and absolute clarity for the painter’s life was never captured fully. But as in his paintings, the subject matter, which in this case would be Chardin himself, is transcended by the essence and artistic value. Therefore, in this sense, one is ought to accept the various pieces that exist out there which if combined could vocalize the lifetime of the Parisian artist in a fairly faithful manner. It is certain that the works of Jean-Baptiste maintain elements that are capable of compelling people to view things from a different perspective, especially those things that are fully acknowledged by humanity’s sense of sight. In other words, the French painter’s works function to achieve the most ultimate form of visual defamiliarisation.

Life of French Painters: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

Jean-baptiste-simeon Chardin was born in Paris in 1699. Interestingly, it is said that the painternever left Paris; the fact goes in perfect tune with the main theme and the very nature of his works as will later on be revealed. Chardin specialized in the particular genre of still life that involved mostly domestic scenes–which is a part and parcel of the influence of Dutch still life works– and ordinary daily life objects. The paintings instill a sort of visual pleasure between the viewer and the canvass; this kind of pleasure, presumably, would not have the opportunity to take place between a person and those objects in the real dimensions of life, which is why Chardin’s paintings are handed a respectable amount of attention and attributed the trait of importance. Looking at any of his several paintings, one can easily renew or re-establish their own relation with things that are quite familiar to the senses due to their continuous lurking existence. Such renewal could be experienced if situated in a confrontation with a painting like The Silver Goblet, which could fairly be regarded as Chardin’s simplest, most humble painting.

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Chardin: The Silver Goblet – 1768 – (Public Domain)

The Parisian master of still life began his course in a rather humble way, as he was not trained like most of his contemporaries at the royal academy of painting but at the less elegant Academy of Saint Luke. However, by the year 1728, when he was 29 years old, his remarkable career truly began when he became a member of the Royal Academy of painting, to which he offered The Buffet to be exhibited at the salon. Three years later Chardin got married to Marguerite Saintard and later on they had two children. From the year 1735 to 1737, he experienced a couple of atrocities that were represented by the death of both his wife and his daughter. The brief period in the painter’s life also marked the emergence of his first figure painting; Chardin would later on harbor a habit to constantly go back and forth between Still life and Figure painting.

In 1740, the painter’s life witnessed a career altering incident when he was presented to Louis XV at the palace of Versailles and offered the king two paintings: Saying Grace and The Diligent Mother. Four years later, he married the by then financially comfortable Marguerite Pouget, whom he included later on in a pastel. These years saw the highest Chardin has ever reached with his fame and reputation; it is arguably some when there that he met one of his most loyal admirers, the French encyclopaedist Denis Diderot, who appreciated much the ingenuity and brilliance of the French artist.

Diderot, as an art critic as well, devoted much of his pages to praise the unique skills Chardin. He even went as far as to call him “A great magician.” Moreover, in his Salon review of 1765 Diderot wrote of Chardin, “It is the air and light you take with the tip of your brush and fix to your canvas; your work exists between nature and art. Another piece of text that was oriented towards elevating his acquaintance stated in the clearest manner Diderot’s admiration…

We stop in front of Chardin as if by instinct, like a traveler weary of the road choosing, almost without realizing, a place that offers a grassy seat, silence, water and cool shade.”

Chardin’s talent exceeded the exceptional skill with which he portrayed the objects of his paintings, but a rather superior ability of conveying rich sentiments through non-rich objects in a manner that contributed to the ambiguous mystery that shrouded his outstanding skills.


 

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Chardin: The Diligent Mother – 1740 – (Public Domain)

Selected Works:

The Diligent Mother

Due to its personal dwelling with the king of France, the painting is one of Chardin’s most important works. Typically, the picture depicts a scene that is naturally attributed much calmness and tranquility; the brownish background foresees a gradual contrast in brightness that starts with the wall in the back, and ends with the peace conveying  whiteness of the dresses worn by the painting’s human figures. The part that lies behind the mother and her daughter suggests a sense of privacy and interiority in the image, as it shows a door that is deliberately locked by a greenish dark screen. The door, however, remains partly concealing what seems to be a brighter part of the house outside; in Chardin’s works, doors are re-occurring motifs and they propose an internal subtle conflict between openness and closure. Altogether, this theme contributes to the interiority that Chardin was interested in. At this point, Diderot’s words seem to make sense; the stillness of the painting has no other effect but drawing the viewer deeper into its silent, private, logically peaceful world.

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Chardin: The Buffet – 1728 – (Public Domain)

The Buffet

The Buffet is one of the paintings that Chardin offered to the Royal Academy of paintingwhen he was admissioned in. Starting again with a brownish background, the image involves a range of humble, minor objects that have no certain significance to one in real life. However on Chardin’s canvas, the shabby pyramid of fruit accompanied by random utensils like plates, cups, jars and a brilliantly crafted table cloth convey an unprecedented kind of visual richness to the onlooker, which again brings us back to the remarkable words of Diderot. To some viewers, it would be easy to notice that the animal figures in Chardin’s might seem as if they are not yet finished, which can be regarded as an acknowledgment from him of the contrast between animals and the absolute stillness of the scenes he paints.

 


Taste in the Craft: The Genre of Still Life

The genre of still life in painting does not require much expounding or elaborating; its gist and nature are to a massive extent concluded in its name. Thus, it is to face a form of prejudice within the sphere of criticism and the critics inhibiting it, chiefly due to its severe staunchness and sheer constancy. Such traits attributed to the genre guaranteed it a rather low rank in the pyramid of critical discussion. Still life works are mainly concerned with depicting ordinary everyday inanimate objects, the range of such objects vary from natural to man-made.

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Pieter Aertsen: A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms – 1551 – (Public Domain)

Before its rebirth into the realm European renaissance and the centuries following it, the pacific artistic approach was used by the ancient Egyptians as ornaments for their tombs; it also adorned the interior of many of their extravagant temples. Similarly, depicting inanimate objects could be found in the remains of the Roman city of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Intriguingly, ancient versions of still life included motifs that would later on be popular in Renaissance and modern Europe; the glass bowl with fruits and depictions of other kinds of foods and dead animals are the most definitive examples. The genre then attained salvation from being merely an element on religious wall paintings. However, it was still a captive of religion’s firm grip as it was used to exhibit Christian symbols and meanings, despite a few scattered attempts by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci to enervate Christianity’s domination over artistic expression.

The sixteenth century resembled a stage for the silent art to develop and experience certain adjustments; due to the initiating interest in the natural world and scientific illustration, religious content displayed by art started to gradually decline. Numerous new objects that were imported to Europe from other continents became the centre of focus for realist painters; an immediate sense of appreciation captivated European artists and motivated them to exhibit the new, exotic objects that came to them as a result of the widespread European excursions. Early in the seventeenth century, still life painting flourished in Northern Europe, it did so mostly in the Netherlands before finding a solid ground in France in the latter half of the century. However, according to a certain vision adopted by many of the century’s academics, still life did not seem to maintain the sufficient attributions for it to be regarded as a great form of art, which rendered still life eventually to lie in the bottom of the hierarchy of genres; a theory that was established basically by the French historiographer and architect Andre Felibien. The Darwinian in its nature classification did not affect the genre in a destructive manner; countries like the Netherlands and Germany were prolific in their production of still life paintings. In the eighteenth century, the trend started to prompt enthusiasm among French artists, and accordingly, the French master of still life, Jean-Baptiste Chardin rose to be one of the most outstanding artists in the history of the genre.


So as it can be concluded; still life painting did not only alter the way we look at everyday life objects, but it moreover granted us a rather precious opportunity to examine a dimension that is -by the effect of habitualization- familiar to our senses in a non-familiar manner. As for Chardin, it is not quite facile to simply illustrate a resolve so as to why his works of still life are wrapped in much mystery, but in an extremely rapid world like ours today, we could all need what Chardin and his genre gave us and stop to savor the stillness of time.

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