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Jean Siméon Chardin

French, 1699 - 1779

Chardin, Jean Baptiste Siméon

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Jean Siméon Chardin (often in his lifetime also called Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin)[1] was born in Paris in 1699 and spent his entire life there. Such a parochial existence was unusual for an artist of Chardin's critical, official, and international reputation. His life was essentially uneventful, if such a statement is appropriate to a man who produced some of the greatest works of art in the eighteenth century. He learned what he needed from the old masters he saw in the French royal collection, in the collections of Parisian amateurs, or passing through the active Parisian art market of the day. He might have claimed he did not need to visit Rome or the Netherlands. Like many artists at the time, Chardin was born into the artisan class (his father manufactured billiard tables), which introduced him into the world of luxury goods, professional decorators, and the fine arts. At about the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to the history painter Pierre Jacques Cazes (1676-1754), soon moving to the studio of Noël Nicolas Coypel (1690-1734). But the elevated path of history painting was not for him. About 1720 he painted a large pictorial signboard (destroyed) for the premises of a surgeon, and his first genre scenes on a modest scale, including The Game of Billiards (Paris, Musée Carnavalet). In 1724 he was received into the Académie de Saint Luc, the painters' guild, and in 1728 he exhibited several works, including The Ray of 1725-1726 and The Buffet of 1728 (both Paris, Musée du Louvre) in the annual Exposition de la jeunesse in the Place Dauphine. These works brought him sufficient attention and acclaim that he was that same year received into the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture as a painter "of animals and fruits": the two celebrated still lifes were his reception pieces. He continued to exhibit at the Exposition de la jeunesse until the Académie established regular exhibitions, exclusive to its own members, in 1737. Until about 1733 Chardin's main production was of still life subjects, but in that year he turned seriously to genre scenes, painting the monumental Woman Sealing a Letter (Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg), dated 1733, and the smaller Woman at a Water Cistern (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum), dated 1733 (or possibly 1735). At the Salon of 1737 Chardin exhibited seven small genre scenes, establishing his mastery in this domain and attracting critical acclaim. A staunch supporter and committee member of the Académie, he exhibited still lifes and genre subjects at every Salon until 1779, the year of his death. From 1755 to 1774 he was treasurer of the academy. From 1761 to 1774 he was tapissier of the Salon, meaning that he supervised the installation of the works in the exhibition. In 1738 an engraving was published after one of the genre scenes--Woman Sealing a Letter--which was to become a regular practice, augmenting Chardin's income through the sale of multiple impressions and disseminating his genre imagery far beyond the Paris Salon and the private walls of his collectors. His art, especially his genre paintings, were sought by bourgeois, aristocratic, and royal collectors across Europe, from Paris to Stockholm, from Edinburgh to St. Petersburg, from Vienna to Karlsruhe. Chardin's laborious method of working, but also the success of certain designs, encouraged him to paint more than one and often several versions of many of his genre and still life subjects. The lowly character of his subject matter and his bold, impastoed manner of painting ran counter to the prevalent rococo trend that dominated the Parisian art world in the early part of his career and to the academic classicism that developed during his last two decades. Yet Chardin remained admired and sought after until the end, in spite of a certain disdain expressed by more academically minded critics. Problems with his eyesight in the last few years led him to adopt pastel painting, in which he made brilliant portraits, especially of his wife and himself.

[1] For a discussion of Chardin's names, see Pierre Rosenberg, in Chardin, 1699-1779, Exh. cat.; Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Cleveland Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Cleveland, 1979: 382.

[Philip Conisbee, in French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2009: 58.]

Artist Bibliography

Wildenstein, Georges. Chardin. Paris, 1933.
Rosenberg, Pierre. Chardin, 1699-1779. Exh. cat. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Cleveland Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Cleveland, 1979.
Conisbee, Philip. Chardin. Oxford, 1986.
Roland Michel, Marianne. Chardin. Paris, 1994.
Rosenberg, Pierre, and Renaud Temperini. Chardin. Paris, 1999.
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: 58.

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