The three pastels included here were all portraits, of shoulder-length. Two were self-portraits and each one made use of a small blue bow. The models had simple white cloth hats but with thicker clothing elsewhere. It may have been that the artist found it easier to work with pastels for these compositions. Despite the clear similarities between the three pastel drawings, they were actually produced over a period of eight years, when one might have assumed that they were all completed together over just a matter of months. The two self portraits are particularly similar, both in posture and also content. The light appears from our left in all three and the backgrounds are dark and plain too. When viewing from a distance, some would even be unaware that these are not more oil works, but when you look closer the individual pastel lines can be seen and understood.
French art has a long history within the medium of pastel drawing, with other notable exponents of this niche art form including the likes of Claude Monet who experimented with a good number of pastel landscape scenes. Maurice-Quentin Delatour worked only in pastels, which was rare for a figure with such a strong artistic reputation. There were also some figurative pastels from Edgar Degas too, who enjoyed the speed at which he could work within the theatrical settings with which he was often based. Pastels themselves offer a unique blend between the colours of oils, with the speed and simplicity of drawing with charcoal or chalk and this has encouraged many more artists to experiment with them at some point in their career. It has been portrait artists who have been lured in most frequently although landscape art benefits from the simplicity of set up that is offered by all forms of drawing.
Speaking of Degas, he followed into pastels a century after Chardin, and would take this route for precisely the same reason as the Rococo master - they both experienced significant health problems later in life which made this change a necessity. We can even go further than that to use the example of Henri Matisse who switched to cut outs when his health had let him down and he would use this method right up until his death, whilst he was in fact bed ridden. It is clearly difficult for creative masters such as these to simply stop producing any art at all, and so they will invariably search desperately for any viable alternatives. Chardin first exhibited his work in this medium in the early 1770s, by which point he would have been more than seventy years old. In fact, the oils that he had used previously had actually damaged his eyesight, so his own career had effectively caused this situation, as well as the impact of old age.
The 1770s would prove a particularly challenging period for artist Chardin, losing his son Jean-Pierre, as well as becoming embroiled in political squabbles amongst the upper levels of French art. He would not make it beyond this decade, ultimately passing away from multiple health complications. The one positive from this period was his successful entry into the medium of pastels, which he exhibited at the Salon on five occasions. The majority of these were portraits and there was also a copy of a piece by Rembrandt within that too. Many commented upon viewing them as to just how old Chardin now looked, reflecting the harrowing period that he was currently experiencing. Despite falling into obscurity around the time of his death and in the years immediately after, most consider his work during this period to still be of significant note and worthy of respect within his impressive oeuvre, even ignoring the extra challenges that he would have been facing at this time.