Oil on canvas
30 x 42 1/2 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (b Paris, 2 Nov. 1699; d Paris, 6 Dec. 1779). French painter of still lifes and genre scenes, subjects in which he was one of the greatest masters of all time. He was the contemporary of François Boucher and he briefly taught Jean-Honoré Fragonard, whose work typified the more fashionable Rococo style of the times. Chardin's work was a contrast to theirs in every way. More naturalistic, it was heavily influenced by 17th-century Dutch still life and genre paintings. Almost all his pictures are small in size and simple in subject, depicting objects and scenes from everyday middle-class life. They create their magic through an extraordinarily subtle mastery of composition and colour, tone and texture (he was a notoriously slow and fastidious worker).
In 1728 he was accepted into the The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture as a ‘painter skilled in animals and fruits,’ although still lifes and genre scenes were not popular with the Academy at the time. Denis Diderot, the period's foremost critic, called Chardin the "grand magician," suggesting the seemingly effortless harmony of color and composition with which Chardin imparted gravity to ordinary objects and occupations. It was customary for new members to give an example of their work to the Academy and Chardin presented The Rayfish (c.1725) and The Buffet (1728), both now in the Louvre, Paris. The Rayfish is, by Chardin's standards, an unusually flamboyant work: the gutted fish has a strangely human-like ‘face’ twisted in a macabre grimace, and its raw flesh is depicted with virtuoso skill.
- Adapted and modified from: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press) with additional info. from: https://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg53/gg53-over1.html#jump
- "Chardin, Jean-Siméon" The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists. Ed Ian Chilvers. Oxford University Press 2009 Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.
Use the images below to help understand the context of Chardin's work.
- Chardin was painting still lifes and genre scenes. Define each term and explain how these subjects contrasted with what was commonplace for the time period.
- After viewing other works by Chardin, name a favorite and explain your choice. What, specifically, do you admire or find interesting about the work?
- What specific painting techniques did Chardin use to achieve the realistic effects that his paintings were known for (remember, he was called "the grand magician")?