Chardin • Real Realism

Jean Siméon Chardin was born in 1699 and came to manhood a when the Rococo of Watteau, Fragonard, and Boucher was the style de jour. 

Rococo rivaled in decadent frivolity, depicting erotic nudity, romantic trysts, and carnality. The reality we associate with painting how we see in the manner of Velasques, Vermeer, and Chardin was all but absent at that time

The reality of Chardin’s works, especially his still-lives, significantly stands out among eighteenth-century painters. They are plain, unembellished and depict the real world as he saw it.

Chardin had little formal training compared to his contemporaries, he studied briefly with the Rococo Painter Pierre-Jaques Cazes (1676-1754)

By 1720, Chardin was assisting Noël-Nicolas Coypel (1690-1734) of the famous Coypel dynasty of artists, by painting still-life accessories in his canvases. 

In 1724 Chardin was accepted into the Academy of St Luke, a rival to the Royal Academy, though lacking the latter’s royal patronage.

In the 17th century, the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture dictated style for all artists. It had established a hierarchy of genres in painting, classifying subjects from the Bible, history, and literature as part of the ‘grand genre’ because they were considered moral or ennobling. All other subjects, including still-lives, portraiture, and landscape, were categorized as ‘petit genre,’ which was considered much inferior.

Best known for his still-lives, Chardin began his career as a Genre painter of everyday life. Being a ‘petit genre’ painter, found it challenging to gain lucrative commissions.  His second-rate formal education and little conventional art training, gave him a sense of inadequacy throughout his career.

The beginning of the eighteenth century saw the Royal Academy’s influence begin to wane in light of a steady change in taste. Absolutism in matters of artistic style disappeared with the death of Louis XIV, the absolute monarch.

Louis XV succeeded him, then a child of five. His regent, Philippe II Charles, Duc d’Orléans, favored the Palais-Royal, the royal residence in Paris, to Versailles. As part of this trend, there was a renewed interest in Dutch cabinet pictures that were more fitting for their new style of décor.

Chardin received commissions to do still-lives for the Palais-Royal, which was the turning point in his career. 

In 1728 Chardin’s ‘The Buffet’ was submitted and accepted by the Royal Academy. Almost immediately, the Academy named Jean Siméon, an Associate and Academician, a rare achievement for any artist, let alone one who had not studied at the Academy.

Chardin totally re-defined the Genre of still-life painting, he is also part of the lineage of realist painters which includes, Velasquez, and Vermeer, that painted what they observed as the eye observes it. This is Chromatic Chiaroscuro or Clair-obscur in the Manner of Da Vinci. This is exactly what Leo had in mind.

Chardin abandoned still life painting in the 1730s and returned to his earlier paintings of ordinary people he had tried at the beginning of his career. Paris. 

Chardin abandoned still life painting in the 1730s and returned to his earlier paintings of ordinary people he had tried at the beginning of his career. In the next few years, Chardin made fewer and fewer appearances at the Salon. He was elected to Adviser to the Royal Academy in 1743, a job which left little time for painting.

By the 1770s, Chardin began to suffer severely from an eye affliction, which is suspected to be a result of lead poisoning from Lead white-pigments used by all painters in the eighteenth century.

From 1771 on the works displayed at the Salon were all pastel studies of heads. His last appearance was in 1779, gravely ill by November of that year, he died in Paris on December 6, at the age of 80.

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