Skip to content

Died this day 1779, the artist you probably never heard of (Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin).

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.

File:Chardin pastel selfportrait.jpg 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:

Blowing bubbles:

Another shows a girl with a racket and shuttlecock/feather ball        

Not much of  glamour about peeling turnips, but an interesting picture:File:Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin 017.jpg Painted in 1738

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.


5 thoughts on “Died this day 1779, the artist you probably never heard of (Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin).”

  1. I knew some of Chardin’s paintings, but only because my aunt favored hanging framed prints of dead rabbits and fowl in her kitchen. She went against type here, as the rest of the house was filled with needlepoint flowers and butterflies (well, except for the pressed flower pictures featuring dead butterflies!!!).

    Happy Birthday, Mike! Hope you will also wear ” a fetching hat” throughout the day.


  2. François-Marc Chaballier

    Not to sound like a know-it-all (but what if I do…) Chardin is hardly unknown: he had a major exhibition, the latest since 1979, at the Grand Palais (Paris), Düsseldorf and London’s own Royal Academy in 1999-2000. From what the catalogue tells me, he is well represented in collections around the world, especially in the U.S.A. Amongst the lenders then listed were the N.S.C. (Edinburgh), the Hunterian Gallery (Glasgow) and the National Gallery.
    May I take this opportunity to also wish you a very happy birthday? The celebration must have been enjoyable, if you have a hangover.

    1. Perhaps I was being rude to non-French, non-Gallery visitors! I realize that you would know of him! As would many art lovers.What I meant by the title was that in English history we tend to think that the only artists wielding a brush successfully were the likes of Reynolds, Constable and Turner. Speaking for myself, I was never taught about Chardin. I came across him because I wanted a blog with a connection to my birth date. I am sorry if it sounded as if I didnt think the chap deserved to be better known. Quite the contrary. But I bet the majority of readers of my post would not know him, or be able to identify any of his works.Other readers please challenge me on this!

      So far as the hang-over is concerned I am pleased to report that old age does not diminish the level of stupidity which leads me to eat too much, drink too much, and sleep too littlle. I am fully confident that I will never grow out of this ability to behave badly…Regards, Mike
      PS more French artists will follow in due course!

  3. I love Chardin and (my wife) Holly pointed out something that I have never considered, these are not just genre paintings, they are the moments between the typical, the boy not doing his homework but playing with the spinning top, the girl who is indoors and dressed up in her bedroom but really wants to go out and play, the washerwoman who is distracted from her chores, the turnip peeler who looks like she is going to kill someone who just asked her do do something else! haha! and Chardin’s enigmatic self portraits, wow! He was a great and interesting painter indeed!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *