Some come in and some go out: today is my birthday so I honour a man who shuffled off this day in 1779, aged 80. This is his self-portrait, worked in pastels, showing the bespectacled artist in a fetching head-piece.
His name was Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and he
was one of the foremost French artists of the day. But whereas his contemporaries were painting sweeping historical dramas, or portraits of the well-heeled patrons, he chose to paint… lots of rabbits hanging up alongside copper bowls, piles-of-fruit-next-to-an-old-mug, and some rather more interesting studies of women-at-work (scullery maids, washer women and so on). He also painted a lot of children at play and had a particular penchant for painting and re-painting the same scene, for instance of a young boy making a house of cards.
Chardin had been born and brought up in Paris and lived most of his life on the Left Bank, only moving to quarters in the Louvre in 1757 when a studio and living quarters there were granted to him by Louis XV. By then he had become the king’s favourite painter. In 1728 he had been admitted to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture.
Apparently he was an extremely slow artist and he only painted four or five paintings a year. Indeed he seemed fairly slow off the mark at most things, getting engaged in 1723 but not getting married until eight years later.
His private life was rather sad – after the eight year engagement his wife died four years into the marriage. Their daughter died two years later, leaving him to bring up his infant son. In practice the son grew up to be an artist as well, but drowned in Venice in 1772, a probable victim of suicide.
In 1744 Chardin re-married and a daughter arrived a year later but she too died, in 1746. He responded by pouring all his efforts and enthusiasm into promoting the Salon, arranging exhibitions, acting as Treasurer, and encouraging others. By 1770 he was the highest paid artist at the Académie Royale, on a pension of 1400 livres per annum.
By 1770 Chardin’s eyesight had deteriorated to the extent that he found it easier to paint in pastels rather than with oils.
Portrait of a boy and his spinning top.
His paintings are good at capturing the innocence and and unstudied concentration of children, as in this one:
Another shows a girl with a racket and shuttlecock/feather ball
The Washer woman
I like this other self-portrait, done in 1775.
But the man and his works are incomplete without a picture of something dead hanging on a wall, since this seems to have been his favourite theme:
Not sure that I would want to have this hanging on my wall, but interesting as an example of the taste of the day. Farewell, Chardin, died 6th December 1779.