Chardin's Still Life Paintings

Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin's paintings give a prominence to everyday objects, such as kitchen utensils or entirely normal food items. Many other artists felt these were not enough on their own, and so, historically, most previous still life paintings would include lots of accompanying detail elsewhere in their near environment. We can see examples of this in Vermeer's paintings, where the Dutchman would add objects with incredible detail, but they would be just a small part of an overall composition of perhaps a room with a central figure. Chardin, though, would crop out the rest of these scenes and just include an arrangement of items on their own. He could rely on his technical skills to impress on their own, such was his extraordinary ability to create reproduce items in photo-realistic quality.

That said, we do know that Chardin took inspiration from North European artists and this should not be forgotten just because he added his own ideas on top. For example, Pieter Claesz is remembered for overhanging the edges of his tables with cloth in order to add a vertical element to these scenes and Chardin would do the same. He went even further, however, and would often place other objects right at the edge, sometimes teetering over into the abyss. These adjustments meant that the remaining objects which pushed upwards would have an alternative force to balance the piece. Balthasar van der Ast and Anne Vallayer-Coster also potentially influenced his style in this regard. It is unfortunate that still life art has struggled for the popularity of other genres, with the names mentioned here being lesser known within historic Dutch art.

As the French artist's career developed he was accepted into the Royal Academy before being permitted to exhibit at the salon. Some who came to view his work considered him to have an effortless ability to depict still life compositions, but in reality there was a huge amount of re-work that went on behind the scenes. One can argue about whether this was due to a streak of perfectionism or actually down to a lack of prior planning, but most critics were not concerned by the amount of work that went into each painting, and simply appreciated the final result found in each of Chardin's finely tuned canvases. He would make use of a great variety of objects within these carefully planned compositions, including typical kitchenware such as pots, bowls, cups plus cutlery and various food types. There were also fish hung up from hooks and the occasional pet cat.

Chardin did not only produce still life depictions of domestic items, however, and it is important to understand and acknowledge his career oeuvre as a whole rather than just focusing on a single strand. He shifted his approach in the early 1730s towards genre paintings in an attempt to display to his critics that he was a more rounded, and ultimately more talented painter than they had suggested. Some regarded him only as a still life painter, as that was mainly all he had exhibited up to then, and with his accepted limitations as a draughtsman, he may have been somewhat sensitive to this criticism. In fact, some of these opinions came from friends and fellow artists, and this appears to have pushed him into action. He may well have had anxieties, taking on new genres that would throw up new challenges, but Chardin also wanted to prove to himself that these could be overcome.


Chardin's Genre Paintings