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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.

Object Data


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.)

Accession Number


Artists / Makers

Jean Siméon Chardin (painter) French, 1699 - 1779

Image Use

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Detail Information


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


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

Possibly Salon, Paris, 1739, no. 8.
[loan exhibition], Association des Artistes, Galerie Bonne-Nouvelle, Paris, 1849, no. 8.
Exposition de tableaux de l'école français, tirés de collections d'amateurs, Galerie Martinet, Paris, 1860, no. 352 in supplement to the catalogue.
Loan Exhibition of Old Masters, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1920, no. 1.
A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1934, no. 134.
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.
Masterpieces in Art. European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, May-October 1939, no. 38, repro.
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).
Chardin 1699-1779, Grand Palais, Paris; Cleveland Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1979, no. 59, repro.
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.
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.
Chardin: il pittore del silenzio, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara; Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2010-2011, no. 31, repro.


Hédouin, Paul. L'Artiste (5 August 1845): 72.
Burger, W. "Exposition de tableaux de l'école français, tirés de collections amateurs." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 1st ser., 8 (1860): 234.
Goncourt, Edmond de, and Jules de Goncourt. "Chardin." Gazette des Beaux-Arts. 1st ser., vol 15 (1863): 524.
Goncourt, Edmond de, and Jules de Goncourt. "Chardin." Gazette des Beaux-Arts. 1st ser., vol 16 (1864): 151.
"Vente Laperlier." Chronique des Arts. no. 181 (21 April 1867):122.
"Exposition de 1739," in Collection des livrets des anciennes expositions. 43 vols. Paris, 1869.
Goncourt, Edmond de, and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. 2 vols. Paris, 1880-1884: 1:120.
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
Dilke, Emilia F.S., Lady. French Painters of the XVIIIth Century. London, 1899:114-115
Dayot, Armand, and Jean Guiffrey. 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.
Dayot, Armand, and Léandre Vaillat. L'oeuvre de J.-B.-S. Chardin et de J.-H. Fragonard. Paris, 1907: iv, pl. 12.
Pascal, André, and Roger Gaucheron. Documents sur la vie et l'oeuvre de Chardin. Paris, 1931: 72.
Wildenstein, Georges. Chardin. Paris, 1933: 68, 166-167, no. 134, repro.
Frankfurter, Alfred M. "The Sources of Modern Painting: A Concrete Exposition by the Boston Institute of Modern Art." Art News 37 (11 March 1939): 10, repro.
The Sources of Modern Painting. Exh. cat. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1939:19, no. 2, repro.
"Collectors Continue Enriching the Nation." Art Digest 16 (August 1942):6, repro.
Richardson, E.P. "Soap Bubbles by Chardin." The Art Quarterly 5 (Autumn 1942):349, repro. 348
"The Dutch Then: Still Life and Genre." Art News 45 (March 1946):51, repro.
Wildenstein and Company. French XVIII Century Paintings. New York, 1948: 4.
Denvir, Bernard. Chardin, New York, 1950: repro. 17
King, Marian. Portfolio Number 3. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: no. 6, color repro.
Einstein, Lewis. "Looking at French Eighteenth Century Pictures in Washington." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th ser., 47, no. 1048-1049 (May-June 1956): 234, repro. 231.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 317, repro.
Wildenstein, Georges. Chardin. Zurich, 1963: no. 74, repro.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 26.
Gimpel, René. Diary of an Art Dealer. Translated by John Rosenberg. New York, 1966:
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 19, repro.
Wildenstein, Georges. Chardin: catalogue raisonné. Revised by Daniel Wildenstein; translated by Stuart Gilbert. Oxford, 1969: no. 74, repro.
Held, Julius Samuel, and Donald Posner. 17th and 18th Century Art: Baroque Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. New York, 1971: 317, repro.
Stuffmann, Margret, in Keller, Harald, Die Kunst des 18. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1971:391, repro. pl. 370.
Snoep-Reitsma, Ella. "Chardin and the Bourgeois Ideals of his Time." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 24 (1973): 217, repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 66, repro.
Paulson, Ronald. Emblem and Expression: Meaning in English Art of the Eighteenth Century. London, 1975: 106.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 325, repro.
Brenninkmeyer-De Rooij, Beatrijs. "De schilderijengalerij van Prins Willem V op het Buitenhof te Den Haag (2)." Antiek (1976):156, repro. 146
King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 63, pl. 35.
Fried, Michael. Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot. Berkeley, 1980:46-53, repro. 51 fig. 29.
Rosenberg, Pierre. Chardin: New Thoughts. Kansas, 1983:53, 68.
Rosenberg, Pierre. L'opera completa di Chardin. Milan, 1983: no. 97A, repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 323, no. 427, color repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 85, repro.
Conisbee, Philip. Chardin. Oxford, 1986: 133-137, 140, pl. 125.
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.
Hall, Nicholas H. J., ed. Colnaghi in America. New York, 1992: 22, under fig. 22.
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 168, repro.
Roland Michel, Marianne. Chardin. Paris, 1994: 33, 122, 126, 193, 197-198, 223 nn. 13-15, 240, 242, color repro. 194.
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.
Jollet, Etienne. Chardin: La vie silencieuse. Paris. 1995: 26, color repro.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York, 1995: 812, fig. 19-83.
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.
Rosenberg, Pierre, and Renaud Temperini. Chardin. Paris, 1999: 106, repro., 107, 234, no. 98a.
Kirsh, Andrea, and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Materials and Meaning in the Fine Arts 1. New Haven, 2000: 194-195, fig. 208.
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.
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.
Weber, Nicholas Fox. "Making the Quotidian Sacred." Art News 110, no. 6 (June 2011): 72, 73, color repro.
Kennicott, Philip. "Important Piece of The City's Art Puzzle." Washington Post 139, no. 97 (March 11, 2016): 19, color repro.

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