Overview

Jean–Siméon Chardin was celebrated by his contemporaries for his still lifes painted with thick strokes and great attention to detail. In this composition a boy poised on a window sill blows a soap bubble. Both he and the younger boy next to him are fully absorbed in the activity; however, for the 18th–century viewer, bubbles were not only a form of entertainment, but also symbols of the transience of life. The subject was popular in 17th–century Dutch prints that were widely disseminated in France; Chardin made at least three and probably four versions of this painting.

Although Chardin gives the illusion of capturing two youths in a candid moment, he has rigorously constructed his composition. The boys are framed by a rectangular stone window, the sharp rectangles offset by the hunched youth whose arms and head form a triangle. This triangular shape is echoed in the hat of the younger boy. The focus of the composition, however, is the circular, translucent bubble, which glistens against the warm brown tones of the canvas.

Inscription

lower left on windowsill in dark brown paint: J. S. Chardin

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Probably Adolphe Eugéne Gabriel Roehn [1780-1867], Paris, by 1845.[1] Laurent Laperlier [1805-1878], Paris and Mustapha, Algeria, by 1860;[2] (his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 11-13 April 1867, 1st day, no. 10); purchased by Biesta. (Gimpel and Wildenstein, New York and Paris); sold 1905 to John Woodruff Simpson [1850-1920], New York;[3] by inheritance to his widow, Katherine Seney Simpson [d. 1943], New York; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1739
Possibly Salon, Paris, 1739, no. 8.
1849
[loan exhibition], Association des Artistes, Galerie Bonne-Nouvelle, Paris, 1849, no. 8.
1860
Exposition de tableaux de l'école français, tirés de collections d'amateurs, Galerie Martinet, Paris, 1860, no. 352 in supplement to the catalogue.
1920
Loan Exhibition of Old Masters, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1920, no. 1.
1934
A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1934, no. 134.
1936
The Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition of the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Official Art Exhibit of the Great Lakes Exposition, Cleveland Museum of Art, 1936, no. 56, repro.
1939
Masterpieces in Art. European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, May-October 1939, no. 38, repro.
1939
The Sources of Modern Painting, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (organized by The Institute of Modern Art, Boston); Wildenstein & Co., New York, March-May 1939, no. 2, repro. (shown only in Boston).
1979
Chardin 1699-1779, Grand Palais, Paris; Cleveland Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1979, no. 59, repro.
1990
Masterpiece in Focus: Soap Bubbles by Jean Siméon Chardin, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1990-1991, unnumbered brochures for LA and NGA. NGA exhibition title differed slightly.
2003
The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Altes Museum, Berlin, 2003-2004, no. 33, repro.
2010
Chardin: il pittore del silenzio, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara; Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2010-2011, no. 31, repro.

Bibliography

1860
Burger, W. "Exposition de tableaux de l'école français, tirés de collections amateurs." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 1st ser., 8 (1860): 234.
1863
Goncourt, Edmond de, and Jules de Goncourt. "Chardin." Gazette des Beaux-Arts. 1st ser., vol 15 (1863): 524.
1864
Goncourt, Edmond de, and Jules de Goncourt. "Chardin." Gazette des Beaux-Arts. 1st ser., vol 16 (1864): 151.
1867
"Vente Laperlier." Chronique des Arts. no. 181 (21 April 1867):122.
1869
"Exposition de 1739," in Collection des livrets des anciennes expositions. 43 vols. Paris, 1869.
1880
Goncourt, Edmond de, and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. 2 vols. Paris, 1880: I:120.
1899
Dilke, Emilia F.S., Lady. "Chardin et ses oeuvres à Potsdam et à Stockholm." Gazette des Beaux-Arts. 3rd ser., vol. 22 (September 1899):181
1899
Dilke, Emilia F.S., Lady. French Painters of the XVIIIth Century. London, 1899:114-115
1907
Dayot, Armand and Vaillat, Leandre. L'Oeuvre de J.-B.-S. Chardin et de J.-H. Fragonard. Paris, 1907: iv, pl. 12
1907
Dayot, Armand. J.-B. Siméon Chardin, avec un catalogue complete de l'oeuvre du maître par Jean Guiffrey. Paris, 1907[?]: 44,46, 60, 70; in catalogue: 28, 37, 54, 75, 90, 100.
1931
Pascal, André and Roger Gaucheron. Documents sur la vie et l'oeuvre de Chardin. Paris, 1931: 72
1933
Wildenstein, Georges. Chardin. Paris, 1933: 68, 166-167, no. 134, repro.
1939
Frankfurter, Alfred M. "The Sources of Modern Painting: A Concrete Exposition by the Boston Institute of Modern Art." Art N 37 (11 March 1939): 10, repro.
1939
_The Sources of Modern Painting. Exh. cat. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1939:19, no. 2, repro.
1942
"Collectors Continue Enriching the Nation." Art Digest 16 (August 1942):6, repro.
1942
Richardson, E.P. "Soap Bubbles by Chardin." The Art Quarterly 5 (Autumn 1942):349, repro. 348
1946
"The Dutch Then: Still Life and Genre." Art News 45 (March 1946):51, repro.
1948
Wildenstein and Company. French XVIII Century Paintings. New York, 1948: 4
1950
Denvir, Bernard. Chardin, New York, 1950: repro. 17
1951
King, Marian. Portfolio Number 3. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: no. 6, color repro.
1956
Einstein, Lewis. "Looking at French Eighteenth Century Pictures in Washington." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th ser., 67, no. 1048-1049 (May-June 1956): 234, repro. 231.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 317, repro.
1963
Wildenstein, Georges. Chardin. Zurich, 1963: no. 74, repro.
1965
_Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 26.
1968
_European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 19, repro.
1969
Wildenstein, Georges. Chardin. Paris, 1969: no. 74, repro.
1971
Held, Julius S., and Donald Posner. 17th and 18th Century Art. New York, 1971: 317, repro.
1971
Stuffmann, Margret, in Keller, Harald, Die Kunst des 18. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1971:391, repro. pl. 370.
1973
Snoep-Reitsma, Ella. "Chardin and the Bourgeois Ideals of his Time." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 24 (1973): 217, repro.
1975
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 66, repro.
1975
Paulson, Ronald. Emblem and Expression: Meaning in English Art of the Eighteenth Century. London, 1975:106
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 325, repro.
1976
Brenninkmeyer-De Rooij, Beatrijs. "De schilderijengalerij van Prins Willem V op het Buitenhof te Den Haag (2)." Antiek (1976):156, repro. 146
1978
King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 63, pl. 35.
1980
Fried, Michael. Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot. Berkeley, 1980:46-53, repro. 51 fig. 29.
1983
Rosenberg, Pierre. Chardin: New Thoughts. Kansas, 1983:53, 68.
1983
Rosenberg, Pierre. L'opera completa di Chardin. Milan, 1983: no. 97A, repro.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 323, no. 427, color repro.
1985
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 85, repro.
1986
Conisbee, Philip. Chardin. Oxford, 1986: 133-137, 140, repro. pl. 125.
1990
Johnson, Dorothy. "Picturing Pedagogy: Education and the Child in the Paintings of Chardin." Eighteenth-Century Studies 24 no.1 (Fall, 1990): 47-68, repro. 58 fig. 4.
1992
Hall, Nicholas H. J., ed. Colnaghi in America. New York, 1992: 22, under fig. 22.
1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 168, repro.
1994
Roland Michel, Marianne. Chardin. Paris, 1994: 33, 122, 126, 193, 197-198, 223 n. 13-15, 240, 242, color repro. 194.
1995
Edizel, Gerar. "Jean-Siméon Chardin: Seeing, Playing, Forgetting, and the Practice of Modern Imitation." Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1995:16, 153-166, 190, fig. 2.
1995
Jollet, Etienne. Chardin: La vie silencieuse. Paris. 1995: 26, color repro.
1995
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York, 1995: 812, fig. 19-83.
1998
Douthwaite, Julia V. "Private Life In the Public Eye: Rousseau's Autobiography and Eighteenth-Century Painting." Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, no. 358 (1998):145, repro. fig. 2.
2000
Kirsh, Andrea, and Levenson, Rustin S. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies, vol. 1. New Haven, 2000: 194-195, fig. 208.
2009
Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: no. 12, 63-69, color repro.
2009
Gariff, David, Eric Denker, and Dennis P. Weller. The World's Most Influential Painters and the Artists They Inspired. Hauppauge, NY, 2009: 83, color repro.
2011
Weber, Nicholas Fox. "Making the Quotidian Sacred." Art News 110, no. 6 (June 2011): 72, 73, color repro.

Technical Summary

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