National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Soap Bubbles Jean Siméon Chardin (artist)
French, 1699 - 1779
Soap Bubbles, probably 1733/1734
oil on canvas
overall: 93 x 74.6 cm (36 5/8 x 29 3/8 in.) framed: 116.2 x 97.8 x 11.4 cm (45 3/4 x 38 1/2 x 4 1/2 in.)
Gift of Mrs. John W. Simpson
1942.5.1
On View
From the Tour: 18th-Century France — Chardin and Portraiture
Object 1 of 11

This is one of several versions of Soap Bubbles, Chardin's earliest work to include human figures. A boy concentrates his full attention on a quivering bubble, which seems ready to slip from his pipe. Eighteenth-century French viewers would have recognized the soap bubble from Dutch and Flemish painting as a symbol of life's fragility and the vanity of worldly pursuits.

Chardin frequently exhibited and probably conceived of his works in pairs, called "pendants." He used them to reinforce or amplify meaning and alternated them to shift the emphasis. At different times this painting was used as a pendant with two other works, also in the Gallery's collection. In House of Cards another boy focuses on a similarly idle pursuit, while in the Young Governess a girl pays close attention to duty instead.

Two paintings by Charles Amédée Vanloo also explore this subject. Vanloo paired his own Soap Bubbles with the Magic Lantern, where children (perhaps his own) play with a camera obscura. This artists' tool, whose mirrors produced a faint reflected image, suggested, like the soap bubble, the transitory nature of life.

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