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    Ground view of the National Gallery's glass pyramids looking towards the East Building

    Research Reports

    Kennedy Martin
    Center 43

    Kennedy Martin

    Transience within Art

    A young man and child, both with pale skin, are framed within the rectangular opening of a stone window in this vertical painting. At the center, the young man leans toward us over his forearms, which rest on the wide ledge. Angled to our right, he holds a long straw to his mouth to blow a large, glistening bubble that hangs on the opposite end. A second straw rests in a glass cup filled with white liquid, presumably soapy water, that sits near his right elbow, on our left, and he looks down at the bubble. His chestnut-brown hair is tied back with a black ribbon, and curls hang down from his temple. He wears a brown jacket over a white shirt. A younger child peeks over the ledge to our right and also looks at the bubble. Seen from the nose up, the child wears a hat that curves up and over the crown of the head. The face of the brown stone building into which the window is cut seems close to us. A vine of ivy climbs up the face of the building to our left.

    Jean Siméon Chardin, Soap Bubbles, probably 1733/1734, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. John W. Simpson, 1942.5.1

    The topic of my tour was transience—the state or fact of lasting only a short time. The works explored included Randolph Rogers’s Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii (model 1855, carved 1860), Willem Claesz Heda’s Banquet Piece with Mince Pie (1635), and Jean Siméon Chardin’s Soap Bubbles (probably 1733/1734). Throughout the tour, we identified how the artists utilized narrative tools such as symbolism, exaggeration, and anticipation to re-create a moment in time.

    As we did so, we discovered how the pieces reflect the cultural values and anxieties of their period. Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii, for example, introduces the idea of tragedy within art and how the brevity of the moment can appeal to a wide audience still experiencing the effects of natural disasters or war. Banquet Piece with Mince Pie showcases the complexities among wealth, how it is acquired, and its moral implications on society. Soap Bubbles, in its simplicity, draws attention instead to how transience within still lifes has been transformed to suit the cultural environment—no longer solely catering to the wealthy and illustrating the growing class divide, but offering lessons for all viewers.

    Fine Arts major with a concentration in Fashion Design, Howard University
    Howard University Undergraduate Intern, 2022–2024