Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin
Still life with partridge and pear, 1748
Oh, to be able to paint like that! Later painters – among them Manet, Cézanne, Matisse, Braque and Lucian Freud – looked again and again to Chardin’s compositions and manner of painting. Yet this son of a master Carpenter of Paris never enjoyed classical training as an artist, nor did he ever travel to Italy to study classical painting. The work before us contains much of what established his rank in particularly pure form. To begin with, a typical characteristic of Chardin’s oeuvre is how he transforms unspectacular motifs into grandiose paintings – he was never interested in rococo frivolity, dramatic scenes or allegorical profundity. His concern, rather, was with what we see here: a wonderfully calm painting without cheap effects or superficial symbolism.
The means of painting themselves are what captivate us – the harmony of the finely gradated colours, the soft light, the careful balance between dark and light, the simple composition and above all the brushstroke. Seen from close up, the painter’s individual style becomes apparent; it disappears, however, when we view the painting as a whole. The impression that he painted rapidly is an illusion: Chardin is known to have worked extremely slowly and deliberately, repeatedly putting his patrons’ patience to the test.