Chardin, Jean-Baptistesiméon (1699–1779)

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CHARDIN, JEAN-BAPTISTESIMÉON (16991779), French painter. During the first half of the eighteenth century, authors, artists, and intellectuals defined themselves by staking out a position on the central aesthetic question of the period: Should they model their cultural production on the ancients or strike out in new directions as moderns? On the controversy between ancients and moderns, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was a modern. In The Monkey as Antiquarian (c. 1740, Chartres) he parodies the enthusiast of antiquity by representing him as a foolish monkey scrutinizing an ancient coin through a magnifying glass, a type of image popularized by other moderns like David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, 16101690) and Jean-Antoine Watteau (16841721).

Chardin was born in Paris. His father was a master artisan who constructed billiard tables, and his mother's father crafted game racquets. His brother became a marchand mercier (a person who combined the functions of an antiques dealer and an interior decorator). Although he was trained in painting by Pierre Jacques Cazes (16761754) and Noël Nicolas Coypel (16901734), both members of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, Chardin joined the Parisian guild, the Académie de Saint-Luc, before applying for admission to the academy. His association with the guild suggests that, like his family, he originally intended to work within the orbit of the Parisian luxury trades.

In 1728, however, he deserted the guild for the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which received him as an artist with a specialty in "animals and fruits" on the basis of The Ray (c. 1725, Musée du Louvre, Paris) and The Buffet (1728, Louvre). At this time, the classifying system of the academy did not include a category for a modern life subject like The Game of Billiards (c. 1723; Musée Carnavalet, Paris), a painting in which Chardin represented a congenial group of elite, urbane men watching a billiard match. Paintings of hunting trophies and fruits or flowers, by contrast, had been recognized as legitimate subjects by the Royal Academy since its foundation.

Chardin painted a variety of subjects in an array of formats and manners. Young Student Drawing (c. 1734, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm) is a small wooden panel approximately seven inches square that can be held in the hand, but A Lady Sealing a Letter (1733, Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin) is a large composition on canvas over five feet high designed for the wall. In Rabbit, Copper Pot, Quince, and Two Chestnuts (c. 1739, Stockholm) his handling of form is broad and rough, whereas in The Butler's Table (1756, Carcassonne) it is meticulous and detailed. He created portraits in oil like Portrait of Charles Godefroy (c. 1734, Louvre) and in pastel, such as Self-Portrait Wearing Spectacles (1771, Louvre). In 1732 he exhibited a trompel'oeil painting of a bronze relief after a work by the Flemish artist François Duquesnoy (15971643), Eight Children Playing with a Goat, a motif also seen in the lower half of The Attributes of the Arts (1731, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris). Although the relief looks classical, it is actually not antique but the work of a modern, for Duquesnoy lived in the seventeenth century. Duquesnoy's relief was reproduced by other modern painters, particularly Gerard Dou (Dutch, 16131675), with whom Chardin was compared by contemporaries.

Chardin's long and successful career unfolded within the bounds of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. He became an officer (conseiller) of the academy in 1743, pensioned by the crown in 1752, elected treasurer of the academy in 1755, and awarded a studio and lodging at the king's expense in the Louvre in 1757. In 1755 he was also entrusted with hanging the pictures and displaying the statues in the academy's public exhibition known as the salon, a position he retained until 1774. From the first regularly established salon, held in 1737, and for fourteen years thereafter, Chardin exhibited only figure paintings, mainly of modern life subjects like The Governess (1738, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). These compositions, and the engraved prints made after them, brought Chardin international fame. Domestic Pleasures (1746, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm) was commissioned by the crown princess of Sweden. The print made after the image was dedicated to a Swedish countess, and one of them hung, framed and under glass, in the Parisian residence of the marquise de Pompadour. Then Chardin reversed this exhibition pattern in 1753; excepting the late pastels, from 1753 to 1779 his offerings to the salon shifted to still-life subjects and an occasional re-exhibition or repetition of one of his then well-known figure paintings from the 1730s or 1740s.

Chardin confounds nineteenth-century notions of exceptionality by his frequent practice of repeating compositions and motifs. For example, three extant canvases of The Return from Market by Chardin's hand are signed and dated, making it impossible to ascertain which is the original (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1738; Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, 1738; Louvre, 1739).

See also Art: Art Exhibitions ; France, Art in .


Conisbee, Philip. Chardin. Lewisburg, Pa., 1986.

Roland Michel, Marianne. Chardin. London and New York, 1996.

Rosenberg, Pierre. Chardin 16991779. Exh. cat. Paris, 1979.

Scott, Katie. "Chardin Multiplied." In Chardin, Exh. cat., pp. 6075. New York, 2000.

Paula Rea Radisich