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 Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin  (1699 - 1779)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: still life, figure and genre painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was an 18th-century French painter.  He is considered a master of still life, and is also noted for his genre paintings which depict kitchen maids, children, and domestic activities. Carefully balanced composition, soft diffusion of light, and granular impasto characterize his work.

Chardin was born in Paris, the son of a cabinetmaker, and rarely left the city. He lived on the Left Bank near Saint-Sulpice until 1757, when Louis XV granted him a studio and living quarters in the Louvre.

Chardin entered into a marriage contract with Marguerite Saintard in 1723, whom he did not marry until 1731. He served apprenticeships with the history painters Pierre-Jacques Cazes and Noël-Nicolas Coypel, and in 1724 became a master in the Académie de Saint-Luc.

According to one nineteenth-century writer, at a time when it was hard for unknown painters to come to the attention of the Royal Academy, he first found notice by displaying a painting at the "small Corpus Christi" (held eight days after the regular one) on the Place Dauphine (by the Pont Neuf). Van Loo, passing by in 1720, bought it and later assisted the young painter.

Upon presentation of The Ray in 1728, he was admitted to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. The following year he ceded his position in the Académie de Saint-Luc. He made a modest living by "producing paintings in the various genres at whatever price his customers chose to pay him", and by such work as the restoration of the frescoes at the Galerie François I at Fontainebleau in 1731.  In November of 1731 his son Jean-Pierre was baptized, and a daughter, Marguerite-Agnès, was baptized in 1733. In 1735 his wife Marguerite died, and within two years Marguerite-Agnès had died as well.

Beginning in 1737 Chardin exhibited regularly at the Salon. He would prove to be a "dedicated academician", regularly attending meetings for fifty years, and functioning successively as counsellor, treasurer, and secretary, overseeing in 1761 the installation of Salon exhibitions.

His work gained popularity through reproductive engravings of his genre paintings (made by artists such as F.-B. Lépicié and P.-L. Sugurue), which brought Chardin income in the form of "what would now be called royalties".  In 1744 he entered his second marriage, this time to Françoise-Marguerite Pouget. The union brought a substantial improvement in Chardin's financial circumstances. In 1745 a daughter, Angélique-Françoise, was born, but she died in 1746.

In 1752 Chardin was granted a pension of 500 livres by Louis XV.  At the Salon of 1759 he exhibited nine paintings; it was the first Salon to be commented upon by Denis Diderot, who would prove to be a great admirer and public champion of Chardin's work.  Beginning in 1761, his responsibilities on behalf of the Salon, simultaneously arranging the exhibitions and acting as treasurer, resulted in a diminution of productivity in painting, and the showing of 'replicas' of previous works.  In 1763 his services to the Académie were acknowledged with an extra 200 livres in pension.  In 1765 he was unanimously elected associate member of the Académie des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts of Rouen, but there is no evidence that he left Paris to accept the honor.  By 1770 Chardin was the 'Premiere peintre du roi', and his pension of 1,400 livres was the highest in the Academy.

In 1772 Chardin's son, also a painter, drowned in Venice, a probable suicide. The artist's last known oil painting was dated 1776; his final Salon participation was in 1779, and featured several pastel studies. Gravely ill by November of that year, he died in Paris on December 6, at the age of 80.

Chardin worked very slowly and he only painted slightly more than 200 pictures (about four a year) total.

Chardin's work had little in common with the Rococo painting that dominated French art in the 18th century. At a time when history painting was considered the supreme classification for public art, Chardin's subjects of choice were viewed as minor categories. He favored simple yet beautifully textured still lifes, and sensitively handled domestic interiors and genre paintings.  Simple, even stark, paintings of common household items (Still Life with a Smoker's Box) and an uncanny ability to portray children's innocence in an unsentimental manner (Boy with a Top) nevertheless found an appreciative audience in his time, and account for his timeless appeal.

Largely self-taught, he was greatly influenced by the realism and subject matter of the 17th-century Low Country masters. Despite his unconventional portrayal of the ascendant bourgeoisie, early support came from patrons in the French aristocracy, including Louis XV. Though his popularity rested initially on paintings of animals and fruit, by the 1730s he introduced kitchen utensils into his work (The Copper Cistern, ca.1735, Louvre).  Soon figures populated his scenes as well, supposedly in response to a portrait painter who challenged him to take up the genre.

Woman Sealing a Letter (ca. 1733), which may have been his first attempt, was followed by half-length compositions of children saying grace, as in Le Bénédicité, and kitchen maids in moments of reflection. These humble scenes deal with simple, everyday activities, yet they also have functioned as a source of documentary information about a level of French society not hitherto considered a worthy subject for painting. The pictures are noteworthy for their formal structure and pictorial harmony

Chardin frequently painted replicas of his compositions—especially his genre paintings, nearly all of which exist in multiple versions which in many cases are virtually indistinguishable.  Beginning with The Governess (1739, in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), Chardin shifted his attention from working-class subjects to slightly more spacious scenes of bourgeoise life.

In 1756 he returned to the subject of the still life.  In the 1770s his eyesight weakened and he took to painting in pastels, a medium in which he executed portraits of his wife and himself. His works in pastels are now highly valued.  Chardin's extant paintings, which number about 200, are in many major museums, including the Louvre.

Chardin's influence on the art of the modern era was wide-ranging, and has been well-documented.  Édouard Manet's half-length Boy Blowing Bubbles and the still lifes of Paul Cézanne are equally indebted to their predecessor.  He was one of Henri Matisse's most admired painters; as an art student Matisse made copies of four Chardin paintings in the Louvre.  Chaim Soutine's still lifes looked to Chardin for inspiration, as did the paintings of Georges Braque, and later, Giorgio Morandi.  In 1999 Lucian Freud painted and etched several copies after The Young Schoolmistress (National Gallery, London).[

Source:
Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Baptiste-Siméon_Chardin

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin is described as one of the more personal and disciplined painters in the history of art; the image of him was that of a reclusive, mysterious Parisian painter who created works with apparently effortless grace.

Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin was born in Paris on the Left Bank in the rue de Seine on November 2, 1699.  He was baptized at the nearby church of Saint-Sulpice; there he would also be married twice. Success enabled the thirty-one year old Chardin in 1731 to marry twenty-two year old Marguerite Saintard, his fiancée of eight years.  Within a year, they had a son, Jean-Pierre, a future painter who would win acclaim as a history painter, study in Rome and ultimately drown in a canal in Venice, an apparent suicide.  A daughter, Marguerite-Agnes was born in 1733, but died just a few years later.  The house in the rue de Four where he lived with his parents was where he also lived with his first wife.  The home he shared with his second wife was around the corner in the rue Princesse.   Except for a brief time in Fontainebleau in 1731 to help restore some 16th Century wall paintings, Chardin seems never to have left Paris.

The son of a carpenter who made billiard tables for the king, Chardin was largely self-taught.  Although he was one of the foremost painters of his generation, he did not receive training in the Academy.  He learned to draw under Pierre-Jacques Cazes, a second-rate artist too poor to afford live models. Chardin's early training consisted of copying his master's paintings. When he began to work under the more influential Noel Nicolas Coypel, he finally realized the possibilities of painting from nature.  His earliest works were undistinguished; these early works give little hint of the direction his career would take either in theme or in technique.

In 1728 he was received as a member of the Academie at the tender age of twenty-eight.  In 1737, he took up figure painting, and subsequently began to work on his genre subjects.  An urban provincial in many ways, he never worked outdoors, and never allowed anyone to observe him while he was painting. In 1735, shortly after Chardin did a painting of his wife stirring a cup of steaming tea, she died at the age of twenty-six.  He was by all accounts devoted to her and was bereft.  It was not until 1744 that he wed Francoise Marguerite Pouget, a wealthy, childless widow of thirty-seven.  The couple had one child, a daughter, who died in infancy.

In about 1744 he was made an adviser to the Academy and in 1755 he was appointed Treasurer.  In September 1752 he was awarded the first of several royal pensions for his accomplishments and in 1757, he and his wife moved into royal apartments in the Louvre, just across the Seine from his childhood home.   As his eyesight failed, he turned from oils to pastels.  Ultimately, his passionate devotion to art led to blindness.  He died on December 6, 1779.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
Gabriel P. Weisberg in ARTnews, September 1979
Mark Stevens in Newsweek, June 25, 1979
New York World's Fair 1940 Masterpieces of Art
"Chardin's Magic" by Carolyn Friday Paul in Portfolio magazine, June/July 1979
WebMuseum, Paris, from the Internet
"The Quiet Mastery of Jean-Simeon Chardin" by Phyllis Tuchman in Smithsonian Magazine, June 2000.


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