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Happy Birthday Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (18th Century French Painter)

November 02, 2019 3 min read

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

The world of art is not made purely of well-known giants such as Picasso, Monet, Manet, etc. More often than not, the world forgets some lesser-known artists who have made massive contributions to art in general during their lifetime, and it is only years after their days that art critics begin to take a serious look at their work and restore them to their reputation. Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin is one such artist. Though his legacy was largely forgotten after his death, later discoveries have more than cemented him as one of the masters in still paintings.

Born in Paris on November 2nd, 1699 to a family of cabinetmakers, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was a bit different from other artists in that he almost never left his home city. There was little information regarding his formal training, but it is believed that he served as an apprentice with history painters Pierre-Jacques Cazes and Noël-Nicholas Coypel, the latter of whom became the founder of a dynasty of painters and designers who were employed by the French Royal Court. Thanks to the recommendation of the painter Nicolas de Largillière, in 1728, he became a member of the Royal Academy of Painting. As a token of gratitude, he offered to them the two paintings The Skate and The Buffet.

During his apprenticeship with the two history painters, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin did not show much interest in history paintings, and shortly afterwards, an event in life further cemented his painting style. He first married in 1731, with Marguerite Saintard, but the two had been in a marital contract since as far as 1723, and just two years afterwards, he presented his first figure drawings, Woman Sealing a Letter, which epitomize his main painting style. From then on, he would go against the prevalent Rococo style of his contemporaries to focus on more modern and realistic motifs, alternating between scenes of family life (which he would refer to as La vie silencieux) and half figure drawings of men and women focusing on their work. 

In 1740, he was presented to Louis XV, and it was in these years that his career reached its height. He gained so much popularity that King Louis XV himself paid a sum of 1,500 livres for Lady with a Bird-Organ. He also gained the trust of his colleagues and was elected to be the one to hang paintings at the Salon, the official exhibition space for the Academy. He took the task seriously and did the work faithfully. He also married his second wife during this period, and later immortalized her in a pastel.

However, in spite of the successes he had seen in his early and middle years, his later years were rifed with obscurity. His son committed suicide by drowning himself, and the public taste changed, leaving him severely challenged. The new head of the Academy also treated him with animosity, so his later works fell into obscurity. He died in Paris on December 6th, 1779.

When he was rediscovered in the middle of the 19th century, he was quickly established as one of the greatest still painters alive. His style can be distinguished by the juxtaposition of sombre scenes and everyday life, and a penchant for visceral details. In fact, some art critics even went so far as to call him a photo-surrealist!


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