PREFACE

Chardin is neither unknown nor underrated. He never was, either during his lifetime or after his death, and few French artists have remained so popular. He is rightly considered one of the greatest painters of his time, and his work has prompted the highest praise from both critics and novelists, from its first appearance until the present day. His Saying Grace has become part of our imagination in the same way as The Forge by Le Nain or The Angelus by Jean François Millet. By coincidence, his career was developing at the same time as criticism was becoming a separate field of literature and so we are able to look at the different stages of his career both in his paintings and in the writings of his contemporaries.

His painting, his colouring, his style and his touch were acknowledged as being exemplary, although he painted still lifes and genre scenes which, at the time, were considered to be inferior modes of painting. This is the first paradox about Chardin, and not the only one. This man, who was almost completely self-taught, spent time thinking about the theory and practice of teaching and, despite an inadequate artistic training, he produced learned paintings, which were praised alongside those of the most famous history painters. This remarkable artist was no intellectual, but the soundness of his judgments on painting is admired and he is linked to the best theoreticians of his time, such as Charles Nicolas Cochin the Younger, and to the encyclopaedists through Denis Diderot. His lack of any proper training meant that he drew little and badly. In spite of this, the pastel portraits which he painted in his seventies are formidable masterpieces. Although he is compared to Rembrandt, David Teniers the Younger and Gerrit Dou, his paintings are truly French and his paintings of bourgeois life were sought by the sovereigns of Europe. Finally, the superficial simplicity of his subjects is today the subject of learned and sometimes dubious analyses.

Despite a wealth of literature, and the study of various public records as well as a variety of other documents -- sources to which this book owes a great deal -- many questions remain. These concern Chardin's intentions, his creative methods, his choice of subjects, his pictorial technique, his 'unique execution', analysed by Diderot, and the reception of his work. How, why and for whom did he paint? What were his inspirations and intentions? Do his paintings have the significance which they have sometimes been given? How were they perceived by the public and the critics? These questions and contentious issues have, of course, been tackled before in numerous articles, catalogues and monographs, most of which are listed in the bibliography and in the notes of this book. I will simply mention here those books without which no work on Chardin could begin: Chardin by Georges Wildenstein, published in 1933 and much more complete than the 'revised' versions of 1963 and 1969. Also, the wonderful catalogue compiled by Pierre Rosenberg for the Chardin exhibition which he organized in 1979 in Paris, Cleveland and Boston to mark the bicentenary of the artist's death. And finally, the expansion

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Chardin
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Preface 6
  • Part I - A Parisian Painter 9
  • Chapter One - Painter of Animals, Kitchen Utensils and Vegetables 11
  • Notes 34
  • Chapter Two - Becoming Famous 37
  • Notes 54
  • Chapter Three - The 1750s: a New Direction 57
  • Notes 73
  • Chapter Four - The 1760s: Official Commissions and a Select Clientele 75
  • Notes 91
  • Chapter Five - The Evening of a Beautiful Day 93
  • Notes 104
  • Part II - The Great Magician 106
  • Chapter One - The Painter and the Critics 109
  • Notes 127
  • Chapter Two - Colour, Brushwork and Feeling 129
  • Notes 143
  • Chapter Three - Still Llfe 145
  • Notes 187
  • Chapter Four - Portraits and Genre Scenes 189
  • Notes 233
  • Chapter Five - The Artist and Engravings 237
  • Notes 245
  • Chapter Six - Painting in Chardin's Time 247
  • Notes 262
  • Selected Texts 263
  • Catalogue of Engravings After Chardin 271
  • Bibliography 285
  • Index 289
  • Photographic Credits 293
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