Critics were not in agreement over the process in which Chardin put together his extraordinary still life paintings. Many believed he achieved perfection naturally, with very little effort and purely relied on his god-given talents. Others looked closer into the brushwork and uncovered large amounts of re-work that he had carried out. Essentially, his lack of preparation at the drawing stage had left him having to make decisions directly on the canvas itself. This was far from ideal for someone who desired such precision but he accepted things as they were and just worked within his own limitations. This did stunt his production, though, and he was limited to an average of around four paintings per year because of the laborious methods that he used.
The sketch that we have included here is dated around 1720-1725 and is part of the collection of the Getty Museum. This piece was completed in charcoal and white chalk, with relatively minimal detail to some of the drawings completed by related artists such as Fragonard, Watteau and Boucher. Perhaps Chardin's intention here was just to leave a loose idea in his mind for the pose and structure of this particular portrait, and leave more indepth questions for when he had commenced the painting itself. He worked in two main genres - still life and portraits. The main consideration on his still life artworks was the precise arrangement of his items, which the untrained eye would not consider a difficult issue to concern anyone. Chardin knew better, however, and realised that every item had a correct place in relation to everything else. He regularly moved items around his paintings, covering them up and then adding them elsewhere. His considerations were both vertical, as well as horizontal, with a number of objects overlapping the edge of the tables on which these things were placed.
The brief sketches completed by Chardin would often feature brisk strokes of charcoal in order to build up forms quickly, with the white chalk then added in order to heighten the piece at the end. These little touches helped to give his drawings an element of activity as well as perhaps suggesting the impact of light onto the model. Many of these sketches were not treated as genuine artworks during the 18th century, particularly the briefer ones such as this, and so they would not be looked after with quite the same care and attention that they would be today. Many would also be passed around within studios as a means to teaching the younger studios either how to draw or perhaps, more specifically, to ensure a level of consistency of style across the studio's output. This was essential when different artists would work on the same paintings, for example, which was common throughout most studios during this century.
Whilst his charcoal and chalk drawings are hard to find, there is a much better supply of his pastel work, which we have decided to cover seperately. He clearly appreciated that medium more than this, partly because of the greater use of colour that could be used within it. His pastels tend to go into far more detail than his charcoal work, and were considered more complete artworks. His drawings here were really just for study purposes and not intended for public consumption, as the artist would not have been comfortable with having his career represented by them. Chardin would typically draw on both sides of the paper in order to make the most of these resources, with the artwork on the back generally being referred to as the recto. In the same example that we find here, there was an additional portrait sketch to be found on the reverse too.