Thursday, 6 January 2011

Chardin - The Painter of Silence

The Soap bubble
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Chardin: the painter of silence
Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara
17th October 2010 - 30th January 2011
Prado Museum, Madrid
28th February - 28th May 2011

The Palazzo dei Diamanti celebrates one of the most extraordinary artists of all time, Jean Siméon Chardin (1699-1779), with the first monographic exhibition ever organised in Italy. The result of collaboration between Ferrara Arte and the Prado Museum in Madrid, and curated by Pierre Rosenberg, the world's leading expert on the artist, the show covers the whole career of this protagonist of eighteenth century art who, with his innovative painting technique and anti-conformity with regard to traditional academic rules, was able to elevate everyday domestic objects and the gestures of ordinary people to the subject of artistic expression.
Fifty-two masterpieces from some of the world's leading public and private collections will provide an unrepeatable opportunity to encounter this remarkable poet of everyday life who has been loved and admired by many of the greatest modern painters, such as Cézanne, Matisse and Morandi.
Basket of plums, bottle, glass of water and cucumbers
Frick Collection, New York
Chardin was one of the most original artists of his time. From a young age, he refused to follow the traditional paths of instruction through the academies and was one of the few young artists at the time not to make the Grand Tour in Italy. Furthermore, of all genres of painting, he avoided exactly those that in France at the time would have guaranteed status and fortune to the artist: the painting of historical or mythological subjects. Nonetheless, in 1728, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, to which Chardin had applied by submitting his first striking still lifes, recognized his talent and admitted him to their ranks as a "painter skilled in animals and fruits". Although he painted still lives, which were considered a minor genre and therefore no guarantee of success, Chardin soon became well known within the competitive Parisian scene.

Girl with Shuttlecock
Private collection
Over the next decade, he broadened his subject matter to include the human figure, with remarkable success. While eighteenth century France was busily engrossed in the luxurious life of the court and its fêtes galantes, fashioning a lifestyle from the ephemeral, Chardin was describing another reality. A contemplative and careful painter, he created the least "Parisian" canvases of the century by painting silence: a silence which pervaded both his still lives, picturing common domestic utensils arranged on rustic tables, and his interiors, in which the domestic servants and the offspring of the French bourgeoisie are shown thoughtfully going about their daily activities. Ornamental embellishment was banished, the pictures became poems to daily life, sensitively portraying humble people and transforming them into the key figures of their time. This period gave rise to such masterpieces as The Cellar Boy, The Governess and The Young Draughtsman in addition to the touching pictures of children at play, such as The Soap Bubble, Girl with Shuttlecock or Child with a Top. In each of these works, through an astonishing technical ability based on the correlations between tone and colour and the variations in the effects of light, the artist manages to convey to the observer his emotional response to his subjects.

A Vase of Flowers
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
Even when he returned to painting still life, Chardin continued to paint in this spirit, creating masterpieces like Bouquet of Carnations, Tuberoses and Sweet Peas, on loan from Edinburgh, about which Charles Sterling, one of the great art historians of the previous century, wrote: "Alongside Poussin and Claude Lorrain, Chardin is the one who has had the greatest influence on modern painting. Certain researches of Manet and Cézanne are inconceivable without Chardin. It would be hard to imagine anything more ‘advanced' in the way of layout and pictorial handling than the Edinburgh's Vase of Flowers. It stands out above anything of the kind painted by Delacroix, Millet, Courbet, Degas and the Impressionists. Only in Cézanne and in post-Cézannian painting can we hope to find so much power in so much simplicity."

Chardin gained public appreciation of his works beginning with the canvases he exhibited at the Salon from 1737. His pictures were also enthusiastically greeted by the critics, including the great Denis Diderot, who in 1763 publically lauded the realism of the painter's still lifes. Chardin was also much admired by the King of France, Louis XV, to whom the painter gave The Diligent Mother and Saying Grace, receiving in return the sovereign's esteem, and in 1757, the great privilege of residing and working at the Louvre.

Glass of water and coffee-jug
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Towards 1770, problems with his health caused Chardin to slow down, gradually abandoning painting in oils. However, without losing spirit, the elderly master inaugurated a new season in his art, using the delicacy of pastels to create portraits of extraordinary psychological intensity. With these works, we conclude the long career of this artist, who for all his life conceived of painting as a means of knowing reality, of carefully avoiding anecdotal content, while aiming for a timelessness reflecting the harmonious perfection between form and emotion.

The elevation of humble household utensils and the small daily activities of common people into artistic subject matter and his extraordinary technical skills made Chardin one of the most loved by modern painters such Cézanne, Matisse, Braque, Picasso, Morandi and Paolini, not to mention Vincent Van Gogh, who regarded Chardin "as great as Rembrandt."

The exhibition offers the occasion to retrace the key stages in Chardin's artistic career through a selection of works on loan from museums and private collections throughout the world, most notably, both for the quantity and the quality of the over 10 masterpieces generously lent, for the exceptional support of the Louvre.

Gallery of works on the official exhibition site

Cat with salmon, two mackerels, pestle and mortar
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
The scullery maid
Hunterian Museum, Glasgow

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