Self Portrait with Spectacles was completed and exhibited in 1771, making it one of the artist's earliest ventures into the medium of pastels. On its unveiling, many commented more about the ageing artist's appearance than they did about the qualities of the artwork itself. He experienced a harrowing last decade, with both physical and mental turmoil leading to its eventual demise in 1779. These self portraits provide us with an invaluable insight into his own health during this late period but also are worthy additions to his oeuvre more generally. The individual pastels strokes can be seen when looking up close and there are clear qualities to be found here, even though the medium was entirely new to Chardin at that stage.
In this self-portrait we find the artist staring directly at the viewer. He sports a white headdress along with a blue bow that is wrapped around. There is also a pink and red scarf tied around his neck, hanging over a thick grey coat. These look perhaps like the type of clothes he may have worn when painting, being more practical than smart. He holds a very serious expression, perhaps underlining the problems that he was experiencing in his life at that time. He was also having to deal with political issues within the French art world at that time, too. His right eyebrow is raised slightly, whilst his spectacles are perched on his nose. He peers from above his glasses, appearing unhappy and perhaps tired by the events of his life. Once the shock of his aged appearance had subsided, many critics expressed their delight and admiration for how Chardin had embraced his own health limitations to continue to produce such a high quality of work.
Perhaps poignantly, the spectacles are included to capture his own sight problems, and they are signify the necessity for him to switch to pastels. Both Degas and Chardin suffered from the long term use of oils, eventually leading to significant issues with their sight. It was specifically the preparation methods used during the 18th and 19th centuries that contributed to these problems and both of these great names from French art would choose to switch to pastels in order to continue to experiment with bright colour, but without all of the issues involved with the process of using oils. Chardin would have been delighted with some of the positive reactions to this experimental phase, and it would have offered him some level of comfort during a turbulent period.