26 December 2008

Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin

For the 2008/2009 school year, I was assigned to research Jean Chardin and his painting "The Young Draftsman" for my ART GOES TO SCHOOL chapter. Well, I did my oral report for the other AGTS ladies as we enjoyed our pot luck desserts and munchies. Just as well put my report to work and publish it on my art blog...

Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1699-1779)
Chardin was born to a middle class family in Paris. His father was a cabinet maker who specialized in billiard tables, especially for the royal family and other nobles. His father wanted him to join the family business but Chardin wanted to be an artist.

The Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture was the dream school that received royal patronage and was the dictator of fashion for artists. The other place to study art was the Academie de Saint-Luc but it was an embarrassment to attend St. Luc’s, a place that was the butt of many jokes by the snobbish students from the Acadmie Royale. In 1724 Chardin’s father (unfortunately) enrolled him into Saint Luc’s. Chardin grumbled for years about his father’s choice of schools. Studying there gave Chardin a feeling of inadequecy that stayed with him the rest of his life.

Chardin received painting lessons from history painter Pierre-Jacques Cazes who, at the time, was little known and has been described as knowing very little about art. Cazes’ students never used real objects as subjects and Cazes did not have any money for hiring models so he made his students copy his own works. Luckily Chardin also took painting lessons from history painter Noel-Nicholas Coypel and eventually assisted him with details on his works. Working under Coypel was good for Chardin's development as an artist.

Four years later Chardin applied to the Academie Royale, presenting them with two paintings – “The Ray” and “The Buffet.” He was accepted into the Acedemie Royale as a “painter of animals and still lifes.”

In 1737, at the age of 38, Chardin started exhibiting at The Salon, regularly attending their meetings some 50 years, and eventually serving as counselor, treasurer, secretary and, in 1761, manager of exhibitions.

King Louis XV gave him a pension and invited him to live in the Louvre. In the 1770’s, Chardin’s eyesight started to fail. He switched to using pastels, mostly creating portraits of himself and his 2nd wife who was well-off financially and able to take good care of him in his final years.

World and Art History

With the 1715 death of King Louis XIV of France, the Duke of Orleans served as regent until young Louis XV was old enough to take over the crown. During this transition period the formalities of Louis XIV’s court were relaxed and the atmosphere become more casual. Social life was moved out of the court and into the salons and the “grand and formal” Baroque period of art died out.

Rococo (“rock and shell”) art took over starting in France and spreading to the rest of Europe. Having rejected the rigid lifestyle of Louis XIV’s rule, the French aristocracy entered into a life of personal amusement. This era became extreme and society was eventually condemned as being tasteless, frivolous and morally corrupt. Neoclassicism took over, timed with The French Revolution of 1789.

The essence of Rococo art is light and fanciful. This period of art featured fanciful curves, assymetry and lots of details in architecture, excess fabric and ornamentation in fashion, and soft colors, strong glaring highlights, and light-hearted emotions, sometimes erotic, in the subject matter of art.

Chardin the Artist


Although Chardin lived during the Rococo period he is not considered a Rococo artist. He was greatly influenced by the Flemish and Dutch painters and preferred subjects such as still lifes and genre paintings of people doing simple, everyday tasks as well as their style of laying down the paint. When he presented his two paintings to the Royal Academie, they thought the pictures were Flemish and that Chardin was a representative of their maker. The Flemish (and Chardin’s) style is characterized by the use of thickly-layered brush strokes and thin luminous glazes.

Chardin is considered a master of still life. He put a lot of thought into arranging his subjects and depicting them realistically. He uses just a few colors, usually earth colors and prefers a soft diffusion of light. The glazes on his paintings allow light to bounce within their layers and eventually out to create a glow.

Chardin started painting game/meat and fruit in a kitchen setting. His friends teased him by saying he was the “painter of dead animals.” He later added pots, pans and containers into his subject matter. Later in life he painted portraits (upon the dare of a fellow artist to give it a try). Some historians attribute the switch to painting children and mothers with children to the deaths of family members. (Chardin lost his 1st wife at a young age and later, their toddler daughter. Years later his adult son committed suicide. Chardin also lost a young daughter from his 2nd marriage).

One obstacle Chardin could never overcome was the snobbery from “grand genre” artists whose works were from literature, history or religion and considered superior and more moral over other subjects. This hampered recognition and lucrative commissions for Chardin. Despite the negative attitudes and occasional comments of the snobbish “grand genre” painters, Chardin’s friends and colleges supported and defended him as a great artist and he did receive patronage from high society and royalty (it just didn’t pay as well as the more respected “grand genre” works).

Chardin liked to work with oil paints and pastels. If a work was popular, he’d paint duplicates and also had assistants make affordable engraving copies for sale. Middle class people were moving up in society and buying art. The middle class class was a great market for Chardin.


Chardin's works were not dated so it is difficult to place them on a timeline. Historians have to use references from diaries of others and exhibition information to date them as well as chronicle Chardin’s life. Contrary to what the academies taught, Chardin did not make numerous sketches before doing the final painting. He liked to jump right into the painting process.

Historians say that Chardin’s work was a great influence upon Manet, Cezanne, Soutine, Braque, Morandi and Lucien Freud. Matisse once said he greatly admired Chardin’s work. One of his more famous students is Jean-Honore Fragonard who later became a famous Rococo artist.

Today Chardin’s works are in the Louvre and other major museums. His paintings have always been highly valued. Although not worth much originally, his pastel works are now also highly valued.




The Painting - "The Young Draftsman" aka "Young Man Sharpening Pencil"





I searched a database that tells where original works of art are located. I found that this picture is in The Louvre. The database info is in French so I translated it using babelfish.yahoo.com. The real title of this picture is “Le jeune dissinateur” which translates literally into “The Young Draftsman.” (I do not know why some sources are calling it “Young Man Sharpening Pencil”). The subject is a young man/teen using a knife to sharpen his pencil. Pencil sharpeners weren't invented about 10 years after this picture was created. If you turn the painting sideways counter clockwise you can see that he is drawing a profile of a man with a long beard. The draftsman has his hair pulled back into a long ponytail with a bow and is wearing a tricorner hat, popular throughout Western Europe and The American Colonies during the 18th century. It later fell out of favor, timed with the American and French Revolutions. The painting is about 31.5 inches high by 25.6 inches wide. The estimated painting date is 1737 when Chardin was 38 years old. Above is the actual picture in its frame at The Louvre.

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