National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting

Introduction | Watteau and the Fête Galante | Fashion and Gallantry | Chardin
Greuze and His Followers | Fragonard | Boilly | Image List | Exhibition Information


Image: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, The Return From Market, 1738The world depicted by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin is quite different: his more down-to-earth subjects range from the life of servants and nursemaids to the seemingly innocent pastimes of children. The Return from the Market, showing a maid who has just returned to her pantry with loaves of bread and a leg of lamb, could hardly be more different in social setting from Boucher's painting. But notice the discreet narrative here: who is the male visitor, the corner of his hat just visible in the outer room, and why is our maid so interested in his conversation with the younger girl? This work was exhibited at the Salon of 1738--the second year of regularly staged Salon exhibitions. The inception of these exhibitions caused French painters to become very conscious of how their work was read, and received, by the socially diverse public who came to these increasingly attended events. Painters were liberated from the literary, allegorical, and historical baggage of history painting, and focused on quotidian themes and narratives, often with a moralizing subtext. Chardin painted no less than four versions of this picture, which was also reproduced in a popular engraving. Note, however, that Chardin's painting, albeit with a rugged impasto and earthy colors appropriate to the "below stairs" subject, is no less carefully wrought than one by Boucher. Often, the same noble patrons acquired works by both artists.

Image: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, The Morning Toilette, c. 1741In Chardin's The Morning Toilette we are no longer in the servants' area shown in The Return from the Market, but in a parquet-floored apartment. Chardin's style is accordingly much more refined, although the subject is still one of recognizable daily life. It was executed a few years later and proposes a more obvious narrative: as an elegantly attired mother adjusts her daughter's bonnet before they set off for church, the girl glances coquettishly at her reflection in the mirror. But how evident is the meaning here? Is Chardin inviting our own reading, and even a moralizing interpretation? Note the vanity items on the table and the missal on the chair. Chardin was one of the greatest painters of children, and his interest in them and their moral education reflects one of the major concerns of enlightened thinkers in the eighteenth century.

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