Agnès Boulloche and her surrealist world.

Agnès Boulloche

My last blog was about the painter Alfred Robert Quinton and his artwork which was perceived to be “chocolate-boxy” and kitsch and yet, I believe was a charming window on beautifully tranquil bye-gone days of rural life.

The artwork today could not be more different. It is Surrealism. Surrealism, which means “beyond reality”, was a movement, principally in literature and the visual arts. It thrived in Europe between the First and Second World Wars. The Surrealists rejected rationalism and held the belief that the rational mind repressed the power of the imagination. Surrealists instead tried to channel the unconscious mind and by so doing, reveal the power of the imagination.

The founder of the Surrealist movement was the French poet and critic André Breton who launched the movement by publishing the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 and led the group till his death in 1966. Surrealist artists find magical enchantment and enigmatic beauty in the unexpected and the strange, the overlooked and the eccentric. In a way, it is a belligerent dismissal of conservative, if somewhat conformist, artistic values. The depictions in the Surrealist paintings are startling often colourful. In some ways they are mesmerising and one wonders what was going through the mind of the painter when they put their ideas on canvas or wood. My featured artist today is French and she was considered to be one of the leading twentieth century French Surrealist painters. Let me introduce you to Agnès Boulloche.

Le Jeu de la Chausse-Trappe (The Trap-Door Game) by Agnès Boulloche

Agnès Boulloche was born in Paris in 1951. She was the daughter of André Boulloche, who in 1940 joined the Resistance movement He was captured and deported by the Nazis. In 1959 he was made Minister of National Education under the mandate of General de Gaulle. He was known as a politician of integrity and conviction. Sadly he died in a plane crash, barely 62 years old. Agnès spent much of early childhood in Rabat, Morocco where André was head of the Road Bureau. As a child she loved to paint and draw. Her mother, Anne, once said that she was born with brushes in her mouth, where others have a pacifier! From a young age Agnès was also fascinated by myths and mythical lands and loved to hear about the adventurous tales of the Arabian Nights. Her other interest, and maybe it came from living in an Arab country, was the world of jinn. Jinn being defined in Islamic mythology as a class of spirits, lower than the angels, capable of appearing in human and animal forms and influencing humankind for either good or evil.

Les Marmitons by Agnès Boulloche

From an early age Agnès had always been immersed in a world populated by fabulous beasts, countless chimeras, gorgons and genies. She experiences life in a fantasy world inhabited by humanimal creatures who she depicts in her artwork dancing, riding on each other and even spinning their horned feet around chessboards in stone-paved gardens. This was her fantasy world which she once described:

“…I’ve always had that taste for escape and freedom. Already a child I escaped, taking the side roads to find my close friends, a whole people of fabulous beasts, chimeras and other geniuses. And my left hand lent itself to my dreams and allowed me to evolve in this magnificent dimension that is painting…”

She always had an affinity towards animals, once saying:

“…I do not see so many differences between humans and animals. On the contrary, I see a lot of interference. However, I hate bestiality on one side or the other. What I disliked was the fact that animals are considered objects, which fortunately is no longer the case since the recent vote of the deputies on April 15, 2014…”

The Garden of Earthly Delights in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, by Hieronymus Bosch (1495 – 1505)

Agnes Boulloche paints in oil on wood panels and uses the ancient technique of “glaze”, a superposition of thin transparent layers of colours. She also uses many chemical recipes to create her pigments and varnishes.
When she was a teenager, she and the family left Morocco and returned to Paris where she enrolled at the École des arts décoratifs, a school which had a major role in the development of the Art Deco design movement in the 1920s and in the creation of new design concepts. Agnès focused on oil-on-wood painting. Except for a short period at art school Agnès was self-taught. One of her main artistic influences is the artist Hieronymus Bosch, whose works are often populated with strange and exotic animals.

Le renard dans le bestiaire médiéval

Agnès also liked to look at the illustrated bestiaries, which must have inspired her works. A bestiary was a compendium of beasts. A bestiary means a manuscript of the Middle Ages gathering fables and morals on the “beasts”, real or imaginary animals, mystical animals. They originate in the ancient world and were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals. She would study works by Philippe de Thaon, Guillaume le Clerc, Gervaise de Fontenay and Richard de Fournival in a modern version. The themes of her inspiration were creatures, half-men, half-beasts, but according to her, they were “more than human”.

Agnès Boulloche – Self Portrait  entitled We Two (2013)

Her painting technique followed traditional methods. Agnes used her own different alchemical formulas for her colours and mixed her own colours, pigments and varnishes. She would then use these oils and paint on wood panels in “glazing technique” used by the Old Masters, in a way in which many transparent layers of colours are laid on top of each other in several passes. This made it possible to work out very fine details and attain delicate, bright colours. Agnès Boulloche paintings are often set in landscapes, which appear similar to those we see in Renaissance compositions.

Danse avec la Lune by Agnès Boulloche

Besides her paintings, she would spend time in the production of sculptures, which were mainly cast in bronze in wax castings and hand chased and then patinated.

Agnès Boulloche in 2014 creating one of her favourite animals -an owl

In the photograph above, taken by her daughter, Julie Lipinski we see her working on one of her favourite animals, the owl.

Oiseau Au by Agnès Boulloche

Soon after completing her studies, she opened her first exhibition in Paris. She was invited by friends to visit them on the Ile de Ré but for Agnès it was not love at first sight. She recalled that at first she deemed it to be ugly and flat. However, she returned the following year and, had a change of heart:

“…When I came back the following summer, I noticed the lack of bars on the ground floor windows and the houses that were not necessarily closed twice when we were away, etc….. I said to myself, this is a place where the notion of freedom must still have a meaning…”

Le Rat de Bibliothèque by Agnèes Boulloche

She used to live and work alternately in Paris and in the town of Foix on the Île de Ré, which lies on the southern French Atlantic coast. In 1994 she finally made Loix her permanent home. She knew it was her destiny to live in Loix saying:

“…Convinced that it was there that I had to be, I first rented a house in Loix, then quickly bought a first home, still in Loix, my village for 18 years. Even though I have always been painting and if I’ve been living for about forty years, in Loix, when I leave home, I am not permanently stamped “painter”. No, I am a Loidaise [term for people of Loix] full, I participate in a real village life and I feel adopted. So to honour this shared friendship, I contribute artistically, and of course voluntarily, to the daily life of the village by making street signs and various other things such as the cemetery or the children’s kitchen garden of the school…”

Le chien tiroir (The Drawer Dog)  by Agnès Boulloche

She bought her first house, but it had no garden and she missed that aspect of living. Then she met Michel Héraudeau, a local builder and in 1996 they joined forces and bought some land in the heart of Loix. He then built Agnès’ house first, then his own, but by this time they had fallen in love and he moved in with Agnès. Soon their common garden was full of flowers and their life became a great love story, which lasted until her death.

Le Bal des Masques by Agnès Boulloche

In 2011, her daughter, Julie Lipinski, also moved to Loix with her partner, Thibault Chenaille, and their 13-year-old son Swan. Then, in 2013, Agnès Boulloche became a grandmother for a second time with the arrival of Julie’s second child, a son, Marlow. Now, Agnès’ life could not be bettered. She was a very successful artist who was now surrounded by her daughter and her grandchildren. Julie described her mother as being a passionate lover of life, a very sensitive person but for all that, one who has a natural authority.

L’Atelier de la Lune by Agnès Boulloche

Sadly in June 2018 she was diagnosed with having cancer. Her daughter said that she accepted the news and never complained as she was a woman of great strength of character. Agnès Boulloche died on April 7th 2019. On that Sunday afternoon, her daughter announced her passing in Facebook, simply writing:

“…My mom joined her fantasy world this morning…”

A tribute was held together with the dispersion of her ashes at the port of Loix Saturday, on April 20th. The local newspaper, Ré à la Hune, recorded the news of her death writing:

“…Since her death, there has been a shower of tributes that sweeps over the social network, on the island of Ré, and more precisely to Loix. For twenty-five years, Agnès Boulloche had put her baggage in this village she loved so much, because in the middle of the salt marshes, the land, the sea and the sky were her horizons and especially her anchors. In her suitcases, she had first brought back her brushes and paintings, and of course, all this universe of her own, populated by animals like the rhinoceros, the cat, the owl, the unicorns, but also angels and little girls or young women with bare breasts, but with ruffles and pointed hats…”

La Licorne de Troie (The Trojan Unicorn) by Agnès Boulloche

Agnes Boulloche had her paintings exhibited in Paris, as well as several other European countries. Her Surrealist works of art have also been seen in the United States, and in Africa. Her work brings out the energy of the colour she uses and seemed well suited in her imaginary world, a world where dreams prevail over reality. An art critic once wrote:

“…Agnes is a ghost who dreams with her eyes wide open …”.

L’Ecuyère (The Rider) by Agnés Boulloche

At the start of this blog I talked about the meaning of Surrealism paintings and pondered on what went through the artist’s mind when they formulated their depictions. Are there hidden meanings or were the depictions just amusing fantasies? In the case of Agnès Boulloche we may get closer to her reasoning for she decided to put her ideas on paper with her Dictionary of Symbols. I am not sure they help but here are some of the examples from her dictionary:

Cochon; animal très pieux et avenant toujours prêt à se faire atteler ou chevaucher par n’importe qui
Pig; a very pious animal, always ready to be hitched or ridden by anyone.

Chien: ne laissez jamais un chien nu sinon il fugue. Vêtissez le plutôt d’un chapeau de lune et d’une fraise empresée de dentelles
Dog: never leave a dog naked otherwise he runs away. Wear a moon hat and a strawberry with lace

Hibou: à tiroirs, il garde nos secrets
Owl: with drawers, he keeps our secrets

Licorne: sa corne telle celle du narval, son sosie marin, peut empaler les mérous, trépaner les dés ou décrocher la lune                                                                      Unicorn: its horn, like that of the narwhal, its marine look-alike, can impale the groupers, skewer the dice or catch the moon

Nef: folle, elle navigue bondée de créatures insensées qui se jouent de sa ligne de flottaison
Ship or boat: crazy, it sails full of crazy creatures who play with her waterline

I am not sure they help you decode the paintings but they do give you a further insight into the mind of the artist

Le Retable du Poisson Rouge (The Red Fish Altarpiece)  by Agnès Boulloche

Agnès seemed to have lived a happy life surrounded by her family on the Ile de Ré and yet she also loved to escape that land and journey to her imaginary world which brought her equal happiness.  She will be sadly missed.

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Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Part 5 – Finances and portraiture.

Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Chardin by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1760)

Over the last few blogs about the French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, I have looked at his still-life works which he partly abandoned for financial and artistic reasons around 1733 to concentrate on genre paintings, which once engraved provided him an income from the prints. Chardin never abandoned one genre in order to take up another, but from around 1748 onwards he produced fewer genre scenes and reverted to his beloved still life work of his early career. The number of his genre paintings that he once exhibited regularly dwindled whilst there was an increase in his still life works which were shown at various exhibitions. For many, Chardin will be remembered for his figurative paintings and his portraiture and in this final blog on the artist I will look at some of these works.

Portrait of the Painter Joseph Aved (also known as The Philosopher) by Chardin (1734)

One of Chardin’s earliest portraits was one which he completed in 1734 and was exhibited at the 1937 Salon with the title A Chemist in His Laboratory. Several years later, in 1744, the painting was engraved by François Bernard Lépicié and given the title Le soufleur, which, according to the seventeenth century, Dictionnaire de l’Académie, is a person using chemistry to search for the philosopher’s stone. It is again exhibited at the Salon in 1753 with the title A Philosopher Reading. It is now more commonly known as Portrait of the Painter Joseph Aved.  Aved was a good friend of Chardin and had just been elected to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. He had assisted Chardin in drawing up the estate inventory of Chardin’s first wife, Marguerite Saintard and had been a witness at Chardin’s second marriage to Françoise-Marguerite Pouget in 1744. It was one of Chardin’s first attempts at portraiture.

Boy building a House of Cards sometimes referred to as The Son of M. Le Noir Amusing Himself by Making a House of Cards by Chardin (1737)

In 1737 Chardin completed three paintings which featured young boys, two of which were sons of friends of Chardin. His painting The House of Cards sometimes referred to as The Son of M. Le Noir Amusing Himself by Making a House of Cards featured the son of his friend Jean-Jacques Le Noir, a furniture dealer and cabinet maker and one of Chardin’s patrons. He had been a witness at Chardin’s second wedding and had bought several of his paintings. The painting shows Le Noir’s son enjoying himself making a house of cards. The original work can be found at the National Gallery in London but as with many of Chardin’s paintings he painted a number of versions of it. François Bernard, Lépicié created an engraving of the work and added the following caption underneath, which in a way adds a meaning to the depiction:

Dear child all on pleasure
We hold your fragile work in jest
But think on’t, which will be more sound
Our adult plans or castles by you built

The Young Draughtsman (also known as Le jeune dessinateur) by Chardin (1737)

The Young Draughtsman was also a painting Chardin completed in 1737. It was a subject Chardin had used before. Remember the 1734 painting I highlighted in the previous blog which showed a view from behind of a draughtsman at work, sitting on the floor, face hidden from view. In this painting we clearly see the face of the young man. It is a smooth youthful face which has a look of one lost in the joy of his work. There is a look of pleasure on his face, satisfied with what he has achieved so far. He concentrates on the task ahead as he holds the chalk stick which holds the sharpened chalk. He is relaxed. This scene also gives the viewers of the painting a feeling of relaxation, of serene equanimity and this was a forte of Chardin. Chardin once again has used a subtle set of colours. Milky whites, the black patch of the tricorn hat, the rose colour of the lips and cheek, and various blues for the furnishings and the piece of drawing paper on which the draughtsman has drawn the head of an old man.

Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweller, Watching a Top Spin (also known as Child with Top) by Chardin (1738)

Chardin completed another painting of a son of a friend around 1737. It was entitled Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweller, Watching a Top Spin. This work is housed in The Louvre since its purchase from the Godefroy family in 1907. The painting depicts nine-year-old Augustine-Gabriel Godefroy who would later become the controller-general of the French Navy. The young boy smiles and stares at the top as it spins atop of a chiffonier, a low cupboard. The top has been cleared of the quill pen, books and papers which have been pushed to one side to make room for the spinning top. One of the drawers of the chiffonier is partly open in which we can see a chalk holder, similar to the one in the previous work.

Portrait of a Child by Chardin (1777)

Chardin’s financial situation had improved since he married his second wife, the wealthy widow, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget in 1744. She brought with her a house in rue Princesse which was close to the house in rue du Four where the Chardin family had lived for many years, although they did not own it. Chardin’s new wife also brought to the marriage a sizeable amount of wealth, estimated at in excess of thirty-thousand livres in the form of annuities and cash. Chardin brought about eight thousand livres to the marriage accrued from his share of his first wife’s and his mother’s estates. Chardin’s financial situation was further improved when, in 1752 Chardin was granted a pension of 500 livres by Louis XV. This was the first gratuity Chardin received.

Portrait of a Young Girl, by Chardin (1777)

Chardin rarely travelled far from his Left Bank home, just occasionally making the short trips to Versailles and Fontainebleau. In 1757 he finally moved to a new residence as Louis XV had granted him a studio and living quarters in the Louvre, saving Chardin several hundred livres. This apartment, Studio no. 12, which was opposite the church of Saint-Thomas, was vacant following the death of the previous occupant, the goldsmith, François-Joseph Marteau.

Soap Bubbles (also known as Young Man Blowing Bubbles) by Chardin (1734)

Chardin continued to work for the Académie and in 1761 he is given the role of tapissier, the academician tasked with designing the arrangement of the pictures on the walls of the Salon. In Ryan Whyte’s 2013 essay Exhibiting Enlightenment: Chardin as tapissier, he commented:

“… Chardin’s efforts had merited an observation that he had treated the Salon as both a totality and a collection of parts, recognition that the effect of the Salon arrangement was based on a unified design, Chardin’s ‘beauty of the whole’ and mattered as much as the quality of the individual works therein…”

In a 1763 pamphlet regarding that year’s Salon the author commented on Chardin’s masterful lay-out of the paintings at the exhibition:

“…One has never arranged the different parts of this collection with more intelligence, as much for the beauty of the whole as for the particular benefit of each of the artworks that make it up…”

In essence the author of the pamphlet suggested that the Salon space was a work of art itself.

In 1763, the Marquis de Marigny, the general Manager of the King’s buildings, awarded Chardin 200 livres increase to his pension for taking charge of hanging the exhibits at the Salons. 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 honour.

Self Portrait (also known as Portrait of Chardin Wearing Spectacles) by Chardin (1771)

If I was to ask you what paintings by Chardin you have seen or read about, high on that list would be his three pastel self-portraits. Chardin had to turn to pastels around 1771 when he had been taken seriously ill. The cause of his illness was put down to his use of lead-based pigments and binders he used for his oil painting. These had, over time, burnt his eyes and brought on a condition known as amaurosis, a paralysis of the eye leading to deteriorating sight. Coincidentally, Degas suffered from the same ailment and he too had to turn to pastel painting. Chardin’s first pastel self-portrait often referred to as Portrait of Chardin wearing Spectacles was exhibited at the 1771 Salon and is now, since 1839, part of The Louvre collection. People were surprised by the exhibit as many believed that Chardin was too ill to paint. They were also surprised by the fact that it was a work of self-portraiture, not a genre he was known for. In 1771, the art correspondent of L’Année litéraire wrote:

“…This is a genre in which no one has seen him work and which, at first attempt, he mastered to the highest degree…”

Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, art critic, and writer praised Chardin and this work, writing:

“…the same confident hand and the same eyes accustomed to seeing nature – seeing nature clearly, and unravelling the magic of its effects…”

The spectacles are delicately perched upon the bridge of his nose. Chardin was forced to wear spectacles due to his failing eyesight and the pair he wears in the painting were made in England. Chardin is depicted in three quarter view. He has turned towards us with his probing brown eyes. How he has depicted himself is symbolic of his trade as an artist. He wears an elaborately entwined blue and white cap, together with a colourful, geometric-patterned scarf which because it has been lit up appears silk-like. The depiction of the artist shows him to be both knowledgeable and astute and the way he has used various tones on the face has made him look almost life-like.  Marcel Proust summed up the self-portrait commenting on the ageing artist:

“…Above the outsized pair of glasses that have slipped to the end of his nose and are pinching it between two brand new lenses, are his tired eyes with the dulled pupils; the yes look as if they have seen a lot, laughed a lot, loved a lot, and are saying in tender, boastful fashion: ‘Yes, I’m old!’ Behind the glimmer of sweetness dulled by age they still sparkle. But the eyelids are worn out, like an ancient clasp, and rimmed with red…”

Self Portrait with Eyeshade by Chardin (1775)

In 1775 Chardin completed another pastel self-portrait which was exhibited at the 1775 Salon. It was entitled Portrait of Chardin wearing an Eyeshade which is housed at The Louvre. In the painting Chardin has carefully fashioned his costume with the same care he once used when he depicted arrangements of fruit and objects in his still life works. The visor which shades the light from his eyes has an attached dusky pink ribbon. He has a scarf knotted around his head and neck and once again he wears a pair of spectacles. Every detail has been well thought out by Chardin. After seeing the self-portrait in 1904, the then elderly sixty-five-year-old Cezanne wrote about the work to his young friend, the painter and art critic, Emile Bernard:

“…You remember the fine pastel by Chardin, equipped with a pair of spectacles and a visor providing a shade. He’s an artful fellow, this painter. Haven’t you noticed that by letting a light plane ride across the bridge of the nose the tone values present themselves better to the eye? Verify this fact and tell me if I am wrong…”

Self Portrait (also known as Portrait of Chardin at His Easel) by Chardin (1779)

The third pastel self-portrait by Chardin, Portrait of Chardin at His Easel was completed in late 1779 but did not enter The Louvre collection until 1966. There are the odd similarities with his 1771 self-portrait in as much as he looks out at us and wears the same turban but in this work, it is decorated with an stylish blue bow. In this work we see Chardin sat in front of his easel, on which is a frame covered with a sheet of blue paper. Our eyes are drawn to his hand, in which he holds a red pastel crayon. His face is half hidden in shadow and it noticeably thinner and his features have taken on a sunken and hollow look, even his eyes have become duller and he looks tired. In his demeanour, we can witness his failing health and in fact this self-portrait was only completed just a few months before Chardin died at 9am on Monday, December 6th 1779, aged 80. He was buried the next day at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, at 2 Place du Louvre, Paris.

Chardin had become quite wealthy in his latter years but never quite achieved the great wealth of his contemporaries such as the Rococo painter François Boucher, Nicolas de Largillièrre or the Baroque painter Hyacinthe Rigaud. This is probably due to his moderate output which according to some critics was due to the slowness of his painting which Chardin said was due to his perfectionist attitude to all his works. Other said it was down to his laziness!

I cannot end this look at Chardin’s life without telling you about the fate of his family members. As I previously recounted, Chardin’s two daughters, one from each of his wives died when they were still very young, but he also had a son from his marriage to his first wife, Marguerite Saintard.   Jean-Pierre Chardin was born in November 1731. He too studied to become a painter and in August 1754, won the Académie’s first prize for a painting on a historical subject. In 1757 Chardin and his son fell out over Marguerite Saintard’s will, Jean-Pierre believing he was not being given what was rightly his. In the September of that year Jean-Pierre received a scholarship from the Académie to study at the French Academy in Rome. On his return to France by sea from Italy Jean-Pierre is kidnapped by English pirates off the coast of Genoa, but later released. In 1767, aged 36, Jean-Pierre travelled to Venice, part of the French Ambassador to Venice’s entourage. On July 7th 1772, forty-year-old  Jean-Pierre was found drowned in a Venice canal. It is believed that he suffered from severe bouts of depression and committed suicide.

In December 1780, a year after Chardin’s death, his second wife Françoise-Marguerite Pouget, left their apartment at The Louvre and moved to her cousin’s house in rue du Renard-Saint Sauveur,  where she died on May 15th 1781, aged 84.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Part 4. The second Mme. Chardin and scenes of domestic life.

Chardin was taken seriously ill, both physically and mentally in 1742. It was probable that his temporary decline in health was due to the extreme sadness he suffered due to the passing of his loved ones. Chardin and Marguerite Saintard were married in February 1731. Two months later, his father, Jean Chardin, died. Marguerite Saintard who had given birth to Chardin’s son and daughter died in April 1735 and a year later his daughter, Marguerite-Agnès, also died aged three. Chardin was appointed guardian to his son, Jean-Pierre in November 1737. Chardin and his son were now living in a Paris apartment in rue du Four, sub-let to him by his mother. Apart from the deaths of members of his family, the other aspect of his life which probably contributed to his illness was his dire financial situation. He owed his mother for the money she had loaned him after his wife died and he had run up debts with his supplier of painting materials. His financial position worsened even further when his mother, Jeanne-Françoise, died in November 1743.

Chardin needed to improve his financial position. He had already decided to move away from still-life paintings and concentrate on genre works which once made into engravings provide him with much-needed income from the popular prints. Still, money or lack of it, remained a problem for forty-five-year-old Chardin but this was all to change in 1744 when he married his second wife, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget at Saint-Sulpice Church on November 26th 1744. Françoise was the thirty-seven-year-old wealthy widow of Charles de Malnoé and eight years Chardin’s junior. Françoise was simply a God-send to Chardin. She saved him from abject poverty and helped him manage his correspondence and his responsibilities on behalf of the Salon, which included arranging the exhibitions and acting as treasurer, from 1755, during which time he was tasked to manage the Académie accounts. Françoise-Marguerite Pouget gave birth to Chardin’s daughter, Angélique-Françoise in October 1745 but sadly the baby died in April 1746.

The Serinette (also known as The Bird Organ) by Chardin (1751)

Françoise-Marguerite Chardin appeared in a number of her husband’s works, one being The Sertinette or The Bird Organ which he completed in 1751 and was exhibited at that year’s Salon as Lady Varying Her Amusements. A serinette was a small barrel organ originally designed for teaching cage birds to sing. The painting is housed at the Louvre which acquired it in 1985. It was the first Royal order passed to Chardin, originally commissioned by Le Normante de Tourneheim, keeper of the King’s estates, for Louis XV but two years later, was gifted by the king to the Marquis de Vandières, the brother of Mme de Pompadour, the king’s favourite. In the painting we see a lady, modelled by Chardin’s wife, Françoise, with the help of a “serinette”, teaching the caged bird to sing. The setting for the painting is a bourgeois interior. The woman wears a cap tied under neck and a delicate white scarf-like narrow piece of clothing, worn over her shoulders, similar to a stole and known as a tippet. The tippet she wears partially covers a dress embroidered with flowers. The lady is seated and on her knees is the serinette which she activates by turning the handle. At the left of the painting we see a bird’s cage resting on a pedestal. The pedestal has a crossbar which allows one to fix a screen to protect the serin, a small finch-like bird, from the light and from distractions which would hamper it from learning a tune. It was with the help of this salon instrument that the ladies of the “good” society taught their caged birds to sing. In front of the woman, we can see a large work bag which contains her embroidery.

The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer (1669)

Light streams into the room through the window to the left similar to depictions seen in seventeenth century Dutch paintings – think Vermeer for example, and they obviously had an influence on Chardin.

The Serinette (also known as The Bird Organ) by Chardin (1751)
The Frick Collection, New York

Another version of the painting is in the Frick Collection in New York, which came from the collection of Dominique-Vivant Denon, the director of the Musée Napoléon and bought by the New York gallery in 1926. There is one major difference between the two versions and I will leave you to spot it!

Domestic Pleasures by Chardin (1746)

Chardin’s 1746 painting Domestic Pleasures also featured his second wife. The painting was commissioned by Lvise Ulrike, the sister of Frederick the Great of Russia and the wife of Adolf Frederick the Crown Prince of Sweden and the country’s future king. However, the commissioning was far from straight forward. Lvise Ulrike was a great fan of Chardin’s paintings and wanted him to paint two works and she gave him the titles of them to be The Strict Upbringing and The Gentle, Subtle Upbringing. Unfortunately for her, Chardin was a slow painter which in a letter dated October 1746, he stated:

“…I take my time because I have developed the habit of not leaving my paintings until, to my eyes, there is nothing more to add…”

Chardin’s assertion that it was diligence and being a perfectionist were the reasons for the long time he took on each painting was challenged by others who put it down to his laziness. The princess was however not amused by this slow pace. Bizarrely Chardin finished the two paintings in 1746 but the subjects had nothing to do with the titles supplied by the princess. They appeared at the 1746 Salon entitled Domestic Pleasures and The Housekeeper and were subsequently given to Lvisa via the Swedish ambassador in Paris in February 1747.

 

Portrait of Françoise Marguerite Pouget by Chardin (1775)

My last offering of a Chardin painting, featuring his wife, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget, is his pastel work entitled Portrait of Madame Chardin, née Françoise-Marguerite Pouget which he completed in 1775 when he was seventy-six and which can now be seen in the Louvre. A year later he repeated the portrait, which is now housed in the Art Institute of Chicago. Before us we see the face of Chardin’s second wife, sixty-eight-year-old Marguerite Pouget. Her face is wrapped to the eyes in an almost nun-like headdress, a head covering which often featured in Chardin’s paintings. Her forehead has an ivory pallor. Look how a shadow is cast by the headdress and the daylight on her temple is filtered through its linen material. Her mouth is closed tightly and she is not smiling. Her gaze is frosty. There is a dullness about her eyes. We detect wrinkles around her eyes. Chardin has managed to create all the indicators of old age. Chardin’s use of colours is masterful. The whiteness of her face is achieved with pure yellow and the pallid face has no white in it at all. The pure white cap is made solely of blue. The art critics loved the portrait. The eighteenth-century writers, publishers, literary and art critics, the brothers Edmond, and Jules de Goncourt wrote:

“…it is in the portrait of his wife that he reveals all his ardour, his vitality, the strength and energy of his inspired execution. Never did the artist’s hand display more genus, more boldness, more felicity, more brilliance than in this pastel. With what a vigorous, dense touch, with what freedom and confidence he wields his crayon; liberated from the hatching that previously damped his voice or obscured his shadows. Chardin attacks the paper, scratches it, presses his chalk home……To have represented everything in its true colour without using the real shade, this is the tour de force, the miracle that the colourist has achieved…”

The Turnip Peeler (also known as Die Rübenputzerin) by Chardin (1738)

Chardin produced many genre paintings in the late 1730’s and early 1740’s which depicted female servants carrying out their household duties. There are three versions of The Turnip Peeler which he completed around 1738. One is housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington whilst one can be found in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich. The third version was previously in Berlin, acquired for Frederick II of Prussia but which is now lost. The Washington version was exhibited at the 1739 Salon by Chardin and bought around that time by the Austrian ambassador, Prince Joseph Wenzel of Liechenstein. It became part of the Washington National Gallery collection in 1952. Before us we see a large woman sitting slightly hunched on a chair, knife in hand, about to peel a turnip. She gazes out blankly, lost in thought. She is surrounded by other vegetables such as a large pumpkin, some cucumbers and a bowl of water which contains the previously scraped turnips. In front of her we see a copper cauldron and a saucepan which is leaning against a bloodstained butcher’s block, in which a meat clever has been driven. This genre piece by Chardin is not one which has an anecdotal element to it, neither has it any social comment about the plight of servants.

The Return from the Market by Chardin (1738) Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada,

A painting which has connections with The Turnip Peeler is The Return from Market. Once again, three versions of this painting exist. One, dated 1738, is in Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada, and was presented to the Salon in 1739. One is at Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin and is dated 1738, and the third is housed in The Louvre. It is believed that the version held in Berlin was a companion piece to The Turnip Peeler, with the two being acquired by Frederick the Great in 1746. This painting unlike its companion piece still survives, but only just, as it was found in the park at Charlottenburg after the Schloss was pillaged by Austrian troops in 1760. Since that time this work by Chardin has never left Berlin. An engraving by François-Bernard Lépicié was made from the Louvre version. Lépicié made engravings of a number of Chardin’s paintings and prints from the engravings were a great source of income for the artist. When the painting was exhibited at the 1739 Salon it received great critical acclaim. The French literary brothers, Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt, wrote about the work stating:

“…the colours placed side by side give the painting the appearance of a tapestry in gros point…”

While the writer Henri de Chennevières was even more enthusiastic when he wrote about Chardin’s use of colour:

“…the milky whites of the woman’s skirt, the unique faded blues of the apron….., the floury, golden crust on the loaves of bread. And the two bottles on the floor, the red seal on one of them echoing the ribbon on her sleeve…”

The Diligent Mother by Chardin (1740)

My final two paintings by Chardin in this blog are his small pendant works, (49 x 39cms), The Diligent Mother and Saying Grace, both of which were completed in 1740. Chardin gave both works to Louis XV in the November following their showing at the Salon and are now housed at The Louvre. The Diligent Mother was the less famous of the two works and depicts a young mother, wearing pink slippers and blue stockings, her scissors hanging at her waist as she and her daughter inspect a piece of embroidery. In the foreground, by her, we see a wool winder and skein with coloured balls of wool inside the base of it. A bobbin can be seen lying on the floor as well as a box which acts as a pin cushion, next to which is curled-up pug. To the extreme right we see a red fire screen, while behind the mother stands a large green folding screen which prevents the light from the half-open door entering the room. The work was considered to be a genre piece in which a well-to-do middle-class mother shows the daughter a mistake she has made in her tapestry. One other interesting fact about this work was when an engraving was made of it by the engraver François-Bernard Lépicié, he added lines of moralistic verse to it so as to explain what was depicted:

“…A trifle distracts you my girl
Yesterday this foliage was done
See from each stitch you have made
How distracted your mind is from work
Believe me, avoid laziness
Remember this one simple truth
That hard work and wisdom together
Are more valued than beauty and wealth…”

Were these salutary words approved by Chardin? Are they Chardin’s or Lépicié’s words?

Saying Grace by Chardin (1740)

The final Chardin painting for today’s blog is entitled Saying Grace and is one of his most celebrated and most popular of his works. The theme of the painting is prayer before meals and was one of the most famous works by Chardin but when it was shown at the 1740 Salon it received very little praise. However, along with its pendant piece, The Diligent Mother, it was given to Louis XV. It remained in the royal collections until the French Revolution; it then entered the Muséum Central des Arts, which would later become the Louvre, in 1793. It was largely forgotten until the nineteenth century when Chardin was “rediscovered”. It was then that the work was hailed as being emblematic of a morally upright, industrious social class and was often contrasted to the debauched, wasteful lifestyle of the aristocracy. Chardin in this tender work depicting a mother teaching her children to pray highlights commendable and hidden qualities and like many of his genre works, once again depicts the satisfied life which comes from a sense of duty, unlike the Rococo painters of the time, such as François Boucher, who depicted the dalliance and flirting of the nobility and upper-classes at their garden luncheons, and moonlit promenades.

In my final blog about Chardin I will be looking at his latter days and his works of portraiture.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Part 3 – Retours de chasse and Genre works.

During the last years of the 1720’s and the early part of the 1730’s Chardin completed many paintings which were termed as retours de chasse, literally meaning returns from the hunt, paintings which depicted the animals killed by hunters and the instruments used for the kill. Although such sights of dead animals may not be popular during our time now, they were very sought after during Chardin’s time and during the seventeenth century in the Netherlands.

Still Life with Hare by Chardin (1730)

One such painting is his work Still Life with Hare which he completed around 1730 and can be found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The first interesting thing to note about this painting is that there is no geometrical demarcation of the background wall and the surface on which the hare lies. Neither the wall nor the surface are marked in any way other than the shadow cast by the paws and body of the dead animal. The depiction is all about the dead animal and the items used to kill it and bring it home. It is some ways a minimalistic depiction which simply depicts the hare lying on top of a game bag next to a powder flask tied with a dark blue ribbon, both of which were his own props and appear in other works. Once again take time to examine the animal and the number of shades of brown Chardin has used in its depiction.

Two Rabbits with Game Bag, Powder Flask and Orange by Chardin (1728)

Two other Chardin’s retours de chasse works are thought to be pendant pieces which he completed in 1728. In the painting, Two Rabbits with Game Bag, Powder Flask and Orange, our eyes immediately focus on the Seville orange in the left foreground which is illuminated by a shaft of light emanating from the left. Once our focus leaves the orange it moves upwards towards the two dead wild rabbits, the powder flask and the game bag which are painted with a mixture of dirty whites, grey, cream, and beige and highlighted in blue. On the stone surface we glimpse at a few wisps of straw.

Partridge, Bowl of Plums and Basket of Pears by Chardin (1728)

The pendant piece is Partridge, Bowl of Plums and Basket of Pears. The grey partridge is depicted secured by a large nail to the wall in front of a stone alcove. On a stone ledge in the middle and foreground we can see a plethora of fruit and vegetables all of which have been meticulously painted. There is a large basket of pears, a bowl of plums, two peaches, one of which has had a chunk removed, two figs, some blackberries and some sticks of celery all of which are placed on two levels. The colour palette used is a mass of sumptuous colours and tones and is much richer than its companion piece. Again, in this work the light source is to the left of the depiction which links the two pictures. Like its companion painting, it is one you need to study carefully and take in the colours, shapes and shadows Chardin has given to the work. Both paintings are part of the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, Germany.

The Water Spaniel by Chardin (1730)

Around 1733 Chardin changed his painting style from works of still-life which depicted inanimate objects to genre painting. Why did Chardin change his style? Maybe the reason was given by comments made by Pierre-Jean Mariette, a collector of and dealer in old master prints, a renowned connoisseur, especially of prints and drawings, and a chronicler of the careers of French, Italian and Flemish artists. He tells the tale of Chardin being at his friend’s house, the French Rococo painter, Joseph Aved, when a lady called. Mariette continues with the story:

“…One day a lady came to find M. Aved to request him to do her likeness; she wanted it to extend as far as her knees and claimed that she could afford to pay only four hundred livres. She left without a deal being struck for, although M. Aved was not as busy as he has been since, her offer seemed to him to be far too modest. M. Chardin, on the contrary, urged him not to waste the opportunity and tried to demonstrate that four hundred livres was a reasonable payment for someone who was not yet very well known. ‘Yes’ said Aved, ‘if a portrait was as easy to do as a saveloy.’ He said this because M. Chardin was engaged in painting a picture for a fire screen in which he was depicting a saveloy on a dish. Aved’s remark made a strong impression on Chardin; he took it as the truth rather than jest and began seriously to re-examine his career…”

Chardin’s thought process made him realise that the public would soon tire of his inanimate still-life and his retours de chasse works. He was also wise enough to understand that to turn his attention to painting live animals he would put himself up against the leaders in that field, François Desportes and Jean-Baptiste Oudry and he would struggle to compete and sell such works. His decision to change genres was two-fold. Firstly, there was the financial aspect as he knew that there would be plentiful profit from prints made from his genre scenes whereas nobody ever made prints of still-life works. Secondly, there was the artistic argument for him to change genre. His still-life works were classed by the French Academy as the lowest in the hierarchy of artistic genres whereas the status of genre scenes which included human figures was much higher in the hierarchy and portraiture which Chardin started to do in 1734 was even higher up in the artistic pecking order. Maybe part of the reason could have been that Chardin no longer felt fulfilled with his still life works.

The Draughtsman or Young Student Drawing by Chardin (c.1734)

One of Chardin’s most famous works was a small work (21 x 17cms) in the style of Dutch cabinet paintings entitled Young Student Drawing, often referred to as The Draughtsman. The work is housed in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Chardin returned to the composition repeatedly over a twenty-year period, and completed no fewer than twelve versions, which illustrates how important the subject was to him. We see a young draughtsman from behind. He is seated on the ground with his legs wide apart, wearing a tricorn hat. He is copying in red chalk the figure of a male nude which is pinned to the wall in front of him. Again, look at the details of the work. The boy’s overcoat is torn on the left shoulder and through the hole we glimpse the red of his suit. Our eyes are immediately drawn to this spot of red.  On the floor we can see a knife which the young man has used to sharpen his pencils and leaning against the wall to the right we can see a stretcher and a bare canvas. Through this work, Chardin seems to have been making a comment on the arduous process of artistic training followed by the French Academy. Chardin used to copy his teacher’s academic studies just as the young man in the painting is doing. Chardin recalled his early training with Pierre-Jacques Cazes when he was a young boy:

“…We were set at the age of seven or eight with pencil holder in hand……We spent long hours bent over our portfolio…..We spent five or six years drawing from the model…..The eye has to be taught to look at nature…”

Woman Sealing a Letter by Chardin (1733)

In 1733 Chardin completed his genre work entitled Woman Sealing a Letter which is housed at Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin. It is a large painting (146 x 147cms) and was the largest work Chardin had attempted. Was this choice of size a way of Chardin showing the public what he was capable of producing? Engravings were made of this painting in 1738 and it was the earliest engraving made of a painting by Chardin. The lady holds her letter which she has just written in one hand whilst the other holds sealing wax and she awaits impatiently for her servant to light the candle which will in turn melt the wax and seal the letter. Our eyes are immediately drawn to the white envelope and the red sealing wax. Women and letter writing were a popular motif in the seventeenth century Netherlandish paintings and maybe Chardin had seen some examples. The painting depicts an affluent woman in a wealthy setting but soon Chardin veered towards portraying more modest folk in their domestic settings. This painting was exhibited at the Place Dauphine, Paris in 1734 and at the Salon in 1738.

Prime examples of Chardin genre paintings depicting a poor household are his 1733 work entitled The Washerwoman and Woman Drawing Water at the Cistern both of which are housed at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. These two paintings have been classified of works of Intimism, a French term which is applied to paintings and drawings of quiet domestic scenes. The Washerwoman which Chardin completed in 1733 was one of sixteen paintings by him which were exhibited in June 1734, at the Exposition de la Jeunesse in place Dauphine in the French capital.

The Washerwoman by Chardin (1733)

The Washerwoman when first exhibited was, because of its beautiful rendering of the contrast of the colours and textures, billed as a work in the style of the Flemish 17th-century artist David Teniers the Younger. It was later exhibited at the 1737 Paris Salon, where some critics even likened his style to that of Rembrandt. Chardin was undoubtedly inspired by Rembrandt’s honest descriptions of household chores. In the work we see a servant engaged in the servile, domestic chores of the household. The woman is depicted scrubbing the washing in a large wooden wash bucket. Chardin has portrayed her in full-face albeit gazing away from her work. She seems preoccupied almost as if something has distracted her attention, or maybe she has been depicted in an instant of idle daydreaming.

Woman Drawing Water at the CisternBy Chardin (1733)

The other work classed as one of a pair with The Washerwoman was his painting Woman Drawing Water at the Cistern.  Here we see everyday chores in a kitchen far away from the rooms occupied by the master and mistress. We see a female servant, who because of her pose and the large bonnet she is wearing, has her face hidden from view. She is bent over filling a jug from a large copper urn. To the left of the urn we can see a side of meat hanging from a hook. Behind her there is a doorway through which we can see another servant clasping the hand of a small child. Once again, several of the objects depicted came from Chardin’s home, such as the copper cistern.

An Old Peasant caresses a Kitchen Maid in a Stable by David Teniers the Younger (c.1650)

The beautiful rendering of the contrast of the colours and textures has been compared with works by Flemish masters such as David Teniers the Younger.

Carl Gustaf Tessin, one of the most brilliant personages of his day, and the most prominent representative of French culture in Sweden was tasked by the Swedish Court to purchase the two works on behalf of Crown Prince Adolf Fredrik and his future wife, Lovisa Ulrika at a Paris auction in 1745.

..…….. to be continued.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Part 2 – Marriage and early still-life paintings.

Portrait of Marguerite Saintard by Chardin

Chardin’s road towards married life was a protracted one. The love of his life was Marguerite Saintard, the daughter of Simon-Louis Saintard, a Parisian tradesman and his wife Françoise Pantouflet and in 1723 a contract of marriage was agreed with financial details and dowries having been accepted by both parties and the future in-laws. However, Marguerite’s parents were wary with regards how Chardin would support their daughter and needed Chardin’s position to be “consolidated” before any marriage could take place. One has to remember that it was not until 1728 that Chardin was accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture which meant he had a greater chance of selling his work. However, in 1730 he had acquired his first patron, Comte Conrad-Alexandre de Rothenbourg, Louis XV’s ambassador to Madrid, who was buying up many of his paintings.

Still life with Attributes of the Arts by Chardin (c.1731)

In 1731 Chardin was commissioned by Rothenbourg to paint two still-life canvases for his library on Rue du Regard, in Paris. It was decided that they should be painted and then hung high up on either side of the door to the room, as they were initially designed to be viewed from below. One was entitled Attributes of the Arts which is housed in St Petersberg’s Institute of Russian Literature

The Attributes of the Sciences by Chardin (1731)

The other was Attributes of the Sciences.  It is interesting to note that two of the items depicted in this latter work belonged to Chardin. They were two large Turkish carpets which normally covered the oak tables in Chardin’s study. In the painting we can see a graphic characterisation of the Scientific Revolution and the discoveries and inventions from that time. We see instruments that were connected with observation such as a telescope, and a microscope. There were objects which harked back to times of discovery and knowledge such as the globe, as well as books and maps. These items also symbolise the documentation and spreading of knowledge in science. This still-life work focuses on inanimate objects that represent the theme and motif of the image. The depiction is without people and the scientific instruments are placed in the centre of the painting and reflect the scientific revolution and the new world view and perspective that was gradually accepted during the artist’s time.

Chardin and Marguerite, signed a second marriage contract in January 1731. It is ironic that the delay to the marriage was due to Marguerite’s parents concern about Chardin’s ability to financially provide for their daughter and yet her dowry as stated in the second contract (1000 livres) was less than that stated in the first marriage contract (3000 livres) eight years earlier. The probable reason for this reduction was that since the signing of the first contract both of Marguerite’s parents had died. Chardin and Marguerite married on February 1st 1731 at the nearby church of Saint-Sulpice.

A Lady Taking Tea by Chardin (1735)

In Chardin’s 1735 painting A Lady Taking Tea, it is believed that his wife, Marguerite Saintard, was the model for the depiction. It is a beautiful and, in some way, a haunting image of a lady drinking tea, because the work was completed just two months before she died.

Cat with Salmon, Two Mackerel, Pestle and Mortar by Chardin (1728)

In 1728 Chardin produced two more still-life works featuring cats. One was entitled Cat with Salmon, Two Mackerel, Pestle and Mortar which is now housed in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. In this work we see the cat with its tail erect placing its paw tentatively on a piece of salmon. Under the salmon fillet we can just make out a dark green pottery lid, next to which is a leek and an onion and on the far right there is a pestle and mortar.

Cat with Ray, Oysters, Pitcher and Loaf of Bread by Chardin (1728)

The other work, entitled Cat with Ray, Oysters, Pitcher and Loaf of Bread is also housed in the Madrid museum and features Chardin’s well-known ray. Like the previous painting this work depicts a nervous tortoiseshell cat as it hesitantly places its paws on the oysters. The depiction is completed by the ray. This is complimented by the inanimate objects – the green glazed earthenware dish, a small jug and part of a loaf of bread. Chardin’s still life works are arranged with objects that belonged to him and which he repeatedly used in his compositions.  These two paintings were in the collection of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and were acquired for the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in 1986.  Both reflect the influence of Dutch painting that is evident in the artist’s early work, in which he adapted northern subjects and formats to his own manner. Chardin had now begun to supplement his inanimate objects with living animals that in some way interpose the calmness of the depiction. The composition of these two paintings is pure simplicity with the arrangement of the cats and the inanimate kitchen items on a stone ledge. Chardin’s rich colouring creates a visually believable image.

Still Life with Pestle and Mortar, Pitcher and Copper Cauldron by Chardin (c.1732)

Another of Chardin’s early still-life paintings housed in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in Madrid is Still Life with Pestle and Mortar, Pitcher and Copper Cauldron, which he completed around 1732. In this work, Chardin depicts a wooden pestle and mortar, a pottery pitcher, a small copper cauldron or cooking pot and a fired terracotta dish of a type used for cooking. The foreground is dominated by a white cloth of a thick weave, atop of which we see an arrangement made up of onions, potatoes, two eggs and some thin leeks. Colour played a big part in the success of Chardin’s works and this painting is a fine example of Chardin’s use of colour and tones. Look, for example, at the whites in the foreground. Chardin has used various shades of white to depict the skin of the onions, the eggs and the coarse tablecloth to give a feel for the texture of the objects. The wooden pestle and mortar on the left can be seen in other paintings by Chardin, as would the pitcher and the copper cooking pot.

Still life by Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1642)

Chardin uses ploys which can also be seen in Flemish and Dutch still-life paintings to create a sense of depth by depicting the white cloth fallings over the front of the table top. The end of the leek also appears to overshoot the table top to give a 3-D impression and this reminds one of the similar trompe l’oeil technique when objects overlap tables in many Netherlandish paintings, such as in the Still Life painting by the Flemish painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem in which we see the claws of a lobster and the curled peel of a lemon overhang the green velvet table covering.

Bowl of Plums, a Peach and Water Pitcher by Chardin (1730)

In 1930 Chardin completed his painting, Bowl of Plums, a Peach and Water Pitcher, which is now housed at The Phillips Collection in Washington DC.  The bowl of plums we see in this work was a favourite of Chardin’s and appeared in some of his other works.  What is unique about this painting is his inclusion of the white water pitcher with its exquisite butterfly pattern and delicate silver mount.  It puzzled art historians as to whether this item was a figment of the artist’s imagination but it is known that Chardin needed to have the objects in front of him when copying them and so it is thought that he had acquired this Chinese vessel at some time. Chardin has gone for a scumbled (the application of a very thin coat of opaque paint to give a softer or duller effect) background, so not to detract from the pitcher and fruit.

The next six years were a rollercoaster of personal events for Chardin. His father, Jean-Pierre died at the beginning of April 1731 but Chardin received very little from his father’s estate due to the fact he was the product of his father’s second marriage and there were many “calls” on the estate from his father’s ex-wife and their children of his first marriage. In the end Chardin inherited 1,711 livres. On November 15th 1731, Chardin’s son, Jean-Pierre was born and two years later, in 1733, his daughter, Marguerite-Agnès, was born. A period of sadness was to soon follow with Chardin’s wife Marguerite dying on April 13th 1735 at the young age of 22 and his daughter dying in 1737, aged just four. These deaths probably took their toll on Chardin as in 1742 he became very ill and takes no part in that year’s Salon.

..……to be continued


One of the many blogs I follow is one entitled Victorian Paris Blog and the author is Iva Polansky.  I was pleased to read that she has turned the various blogs into an e-book.  Take a look at it:

https://victorianparis.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/victorian-paris-blog-is-a-book/

 

Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin. Part 1 – The start of the artistic journey.

In my last few blogs I have concentrated on lesser-known artists but for the next few blogs I will be delving into the life and works of one of the greatest French artists of the eighteenth century. This painter is rightly regarded as one of greatest masters of Still Life in the history of art. I give you Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin. Chardin who was born in 1699 and grew up in a time when the painting style of the establishment was Rococo; an affected style which was overflowing with allegorical images from classical mythology depicted amongst a whirl of lavish adornments. Chardin would not follow that theatrical trend, much preferring his works to be rational conversation pieces. His works of art were ones of truth, self-effacement, and tranquillity.

Self-portrait by Chardin (1771)

Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin was born on the Parisian Left Bank quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Prés on November 2nd 1699. His father was Jean Chardin, a master cabinet-maker, and his mother was Jeanne-Françoise David, his father’s second wife. The family lived in a house on the rue de Seine, close to the church of Saint-Sulpice, which has, along with its “Rose Line”, gained notoriety because of the film The Da Vinci Code. Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin was baptised the next day in the church with fellow cabinet maker Siméon Simonet and the wife of another cabinet maker, Anne Bourgine acting as godparents.

From an early age Chardin found joy in drawing and painting and his father decided to nurture his son’s love affair with painting. He had his son join the Académie de Saint-Luc and by securing him a position at the studio of the French historical painter, Pierre-Jacques Cazes to teach his son the finer techniques of painting. It was whilst studying at Cazes’ studio that Chardin learned to draw and studied the history of painting. This was the same sort of tuition young artists were taught at the Académie Royale de Peinture. However, entry to such a prestigious establishment was not open to all and Chardin never studied there but managed, through Cazes, to acquire similar training. During his time with Cazes Chardin set his mind to become a history painter but that was to change. Why did he change? The answer was probably quite fundamental – he was not a very good history painter and so he decided to set upon a different artistic journey.

A Game of Billiards by Chardin (c.1725)

One of his earliest paintings was The Game of Billiards which he completed in 1725. It is a painting which depicts a large number of people in a real-life setting. This work by Chardin which is housed in Musée Carnavalet in Paris was probably a reference to his father who made billiard tables for a living. During those early days he turned his attention to genre scenes but soon found that his greatest satisfaction came from depicting animals involved in game hunting which were known as tableaux de chasse, (hunting pictures). He believed that such paintings should be as realistic and unique as possible, once stating:

“…I must forget everything I have seen, and I must even forget the way such objects by others…”

Chardin exhibited his first still life painting on September 25th 1728. The date was important as this was the date, he was accepted by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Charles-Nicolas Cochin, the Younger, the French art critic tells the story of Chardin and that fateful day:

“…Encouraged by the praise he was receiving from a number of artists, he decided in 1728 to present himself to the Académie. He was eager to know what the leading officers of this august body thought. He employed a little ruse – a perfectly legitimate one – to be sure of winning their approval. He placed the paintings he was going to present in the first room, as if by chance, and waited in the second room. M. de Largillierre, an excellent painter, one of the best colourists and a knowledgeable theorist on the effects of light, came to find him. He stopped and studied the paintings before coming in to the room where M. Chardin was waiting. As he entered, he said: ‘You have got some very fine paintings there. They must be by a skilled Flemish painter. Flanders is an excellent school of learning about colour. Let us see your paintings now’. ‘Monsieur, you have just seen them’ said M. Chardin ‘What? Those paintings which….?’ ‘Yes, Monsieur.’ ‘Oh, my friend, said M. de Largillierre, embracing him, present yourself without hesitation…”

However, before this acceptance, Louis de Boullongne, the first painter to the king, and who had served as one of its highest-ranking officials of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, entered the room. Chardin grasped the opportunity to ingratiate himself with Louis de Boullongne, informing him that ten or twelve of the paintings in the first room were painted by him but added that if the Académie found any to their liking they could have them! M. de Boullongne dryly commented that Chardin was already talking about being enrolled when he had yet to be accepted but said he was pleased that Chardin had drawn his attention to the paintings. Cochin goes on to say that Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin was accepted by the Académie to general applause and the institution accepted two of Chardin’s paintings as his morceaux de reception (reception pieces). Chardin was accepted into the Académie but as a painter “specialising in animals and fruit” which, according to the Académie at the time, was the most inferior genre of all.

The Ray by Chardin (1726)

One of the Chardin’s paintings accepted by the Académie was entitled The Ray, which he completed in 1726. The painting remained in the collections of the Academy, before entering, during the French Revolution in 1793, the Muséum Central des Arts, which would later become the Louvre. It is without doubt one of his early masterpieces and it has remained on public display without interruption since 1728. The French novelist, Marcel Proust, on seeing the painting described the fish as:

“…the beauty of its vast and delicate structure, tinted with red blood, blue nerves and white muscles, like the nave of a polychromatic cathedral…”

It is a depiction of contrasts. The central and dominant figure in the painting is the gutted and skinned ray, a repulsive blood-stained fish with almost a human face. To the right we see a collection of everyday inanimate objects, a skimming ladle, the casserole, knife and the pitcher whilst to the left of the hanging fish we have items from the vegetable and animal world. We see oysters, a carp and the strange figure of a young cat, fur raised in fright at something it has seen outside the painting. Cats would often feature in Chardin’s paintings.  The depiction of the skinned ray itself with its expressionless and eerie gaze is spellbinding.

The Buffet by Chardin (1728)

Chardin’s second morceau de reception for the Académie was his painting entitled The Buffet. This work was completed in 1728 some two years after the completion of The Ray. In the foreground we see a hunting dog, standing next to a wine cooler and a bunch of radishes.  He is staring up at a dark grey parrot which is perched on the handle of a large ewer. The dog is obviously distressed at the sight of the bird leaning towards the fruit. To the left on the end of the curved sideboard there is a pewter jug, two stemmed glasses of wine, one of which is tilting over possibly due to the dog pulling the white linen table cloth. At the other end of the sideboard there are two carafes which have been described as being made of very fine fern ash glass, two bowls without handles, probably Chinese in origin. The focus of our attention is the central high pyramid stack of plums and peaches which sits on a crumpled white tablecloth. Below the fruit is a plate of oysters and two golden rounds of lemon. Again, as we have seen in many Flemish still-life works, Chardin has displayed his artistic talent by his depiction of the folds in the tablecloth, the curling lemon peel and the three-dimensional look of the silver tray and knife which overlap the edge of the sideboard.  Again Marcel Proust lovingly commented on what he saw:

“…Clear as daylight, enticing as spring water, glasses in which a few mouthfuls of sweet wine linger as in the throat, stand beside glasses that are already almost empty, like symbols of thirst assuaged.  Bent over like a wilted bloom, one glass is half toppled; this happy stance shows off the shape of its foot, the delicacy of its joints, the transparency of the glass, the elegant flare of its cup…”

Pewter Jug with Basket of Peaches, Plums and Walnuts by Chardin (1728)

Many of the items depicted in those still life paintings emanated from other works by Chardin. Take a look at his painting entitled Pewter Jug with Basket of Peaches, Plums and Walnuts, which he completed the same year and is part of the Staatliche Kunsthalle collection of Karlsruhe, and one can recognise the pewter jug which is part of The Buffet depiction.

Carafe of Water, Silver Goblet, Peeled Lemon, Apple and Pears by Chardin (1728)

Also in his painting Carafe of Water, Silver Goblet, Peeled Lemon, Apple and Pears which he completed in 1728, and also part of the Staatliche Kunsthalle collection of Karlsruhe, we also see items which appeared in The Buffet which makes one wonder whether these two paintings  were preliminary studies for the larger work.

Chardin chooses his objects and fruit carefully, for their shape and for their colour.  Look at the variety of colours.  They are all arranged carefully with the contrast between the soft pink of the peaches and the velvety blue of the plums, the carmine red of the apple and the acid green of the pear or the sharp yellow of the lemon..  It is magical to see how he alternates between hot and cold colours and how he juxstaposes the various shapes of the fruits and the rectilinear surface they are placed on.

..….. to be continued.

James Tissot. Part 5 – The latter years and his religious paintings.

The Garden Bench by James Tissot (1882)

Tissot, heartbroken at the death of his lover and muse Kathleen Newton, returned to Paris in November 1882.  It was on his return to France that he competed a large family portrait painting entitled The Garden Bench. Kathleen Newton is depicted in Tissot’s London garden bathed in sunlight, sitting on a garden bench which is draped with a fur rug. She looks lovingly at her son Cecil George whilst behind her are her daughter Violet and her niece Lilian. With the premature death of Kathleen this painting became special to Tissot and although he allowed it to be exhibited in Paris in 1873 he would not allow it to be sold and kept it until his death.

A Little Nimrod by James Tissot (1872)

That same year he completed another work depicting his “family” playing in the garden of his home, which no doubt would remind him of the joys he experienced with Kathleen and her children which were suddenly and tragically taken from him. The painting was entitled A Little Nimrod. His period of family life was over and would never return.  So, after eleven years in England Tissot was once again on French soil. He was heartbroken and even the French writer and art critic, Edmond de Goncourt, who had castigated Tissot for his art work, was moved by Tissot’s anguish. After meeting with him, de Goncourt wrote in his journal:

“…A visit today from Tissot, just arrived in the night from England – and who told me during our talk hat he was much affected by the death of the English Mauperin, who, though already ailing, served as a model for the illustrations in my book…”

2010 edition of Rénee Mauperin by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt with illustrations by James Tissot

Edmund de Goncourt and his brother Jules wrote a novel entitled Renée Mauperin and, in the summer of 1882, Tissot was asked by them to illustrate it. Tissot produced ten etchings and in all of which Kathleen Newton was depicted as the heroine of the novel.

The Prodigal Son In Modern Life, (The Fatted Calf) by James Tissot (1882)

Tissot’s first task on returning to France was to enhance his reputation with the French art critics. In order to do this, he put together a collection of over a hundred of his works, most of which he had completed whilst living in England and exhibited them at the Palais de l’Industrie with the centrepiece being his set of paintings entitled The Prodigal Son in Modern Life, which he had exhibited at his one-man show at the Dudley Gallery, London in May 1882. In one of the paintings from the set (The Fatted Calf), we see a young man stepping out of his rowing-boat on the Thames to join his family at lunch in a summer house where a sumptuous meal has been set out to celebrate his return. Despite Tissot translating all the titles of the paintings into French, the exhibition was coolly received with one critic scathingly describing Tissot as:

“…a Parisian of London now become a Londoner of Paris…”

The Princesse De Broglie by James Tissot (1895)

In other words, as far as the French art critics were concerned Tissot had become too English for their taste. The only glimmer of hope for Tissot was that his pastel work at the exhibition was praised and during the 1880’s and 1890’s he turned more to that painting medium. One of his outstanding pastel on linen works was his 1895 portrait, The Princesse de Broglie. The lady was Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn better known simply as Pauline, wife of Albert de Broglie, the 28th Prime Minister of France. Her pose is casual and yet the way she rests her hips on the table makes for an impressively alluring image. Tissot’s use of brilliant green pastels was to become his trademark.

La Femme à Paris series – The Shop Girl by James Tissot (1883-5)

Tissot, now back in Paris, sought to get himself back into Parisian society and would regularly frequent clubs and restaurants but the one thing he did consistently was to rise early and go to morning mass. He was disappointed that his exhibition at Palais de l’Industrie had not been received as well as he had hoped, and in 1883 he set about putting together a new series of fifteen paintings known as La Femme à Paris which looked at the life of Parisian women of different social classes at various occupations. He conceived a series of compositions focusing on women’s daily lives, from widowhood to flirtation, boredom in the countryside to belle of the ballroom, theatre to confessional.

The Sporting Ladies (Les Femmes de Sport) by James Tissot (1883-5)

Two years later the series was completed and they were exhibited at the Galerie Sedelmeyer in Paris in 1885 and in the Arthur Tooth Gallery in London in 1886. The theme of bustling Paris was very popular with artists in the 1890’s. The paintings were much larger in scale than anything Tissot had done before, his hope being that the monumental works would have an impact on critics and public alike. The Sporting Ladies one of the La Femme à Paris series, measuring 147 x 102cms, depicts a woman engaging the viewer as a participant in the action by her direct glance out of the picture. The event is a “high-life circus,” in which the amateur performers were members of the aristocracy.

La Femme à Paris series – Without a Dowry by James Tissot (1883-1885)

Another large painting in the series was Without a Dowry. The setting is the Tuileries Gardens where we see a beautiful young lady dressed in black, who is a recently bereaved widow. Next to her, sitting down reading the newspapers, is her mother, also adorned in black. To the left, in the background we see two soldiers, one of whom is struck by the beauty of the widow and stares at her with an admiring gaze albeit he is reluctant to approach her. The subject of the painting highlighted the plight of young widows who, on the death of their husbands, were often left financially destitute. This was a very popular subject during the Victorian era.

La Demoiselle d’Honneur (The Bridesmaid) part of the La Femme à Paris series by James Tissot (1883-5)

The last painting in the series La Femme à Paris was completed in 1885. It was entitled Sacred Music and it depicted a young woman singing with a nun in the organ loft of a church. For this painting Tissot visited the church of S. Sulpice in Paris. As he sat in one of the church pews during the mass service he experienced a vision which was to change his life. He recalled the vision later:

“… As the Host was elevated and I bowed my head and closed my eyes, I saw a strange and thrilling picture. It seemed to me that I was looking at the ruins of a modern castle…..then a peasant and his wife picked their way over littered ground; wearily he threw the bundle that contained their all, and the woman seated herself on a fallen pillar, burying her face in her hands…. And then there came a strange figure gliding towards these human ruins over the broken remnants of the castle. Its feet and hands were pierced and bleeding, its head was wreathed in thorns…. And this figure, needing no name, seated itself by the man and leaned its head upon his shoulder, seeming to say…..’See, I have been more miserable than you; I am the solution to all your problems; without me civilization is a ruin’…”

The Ruins (also known as Inner Voices) by James Tissot (1885)

Following this vision Tissot sat down and painted a picture of what he had seen in this vision. It was entitled The Ruins (Inner Voices).   It has to be said that the setting of a modern castle as described by Tissot is not transferred to the painting as this rather looks like a scene from the Paris Commune risings which Tissot had witnessed. It is a moving portrayal especially the depiction of Christ. This painting marked the beginning of Tissot’s devotion to illustrating the Bible. Strangely enough it was these religious paintings which were to bring Tissot greater wealth and prominence than his earlier modern-day life depictions. There were many cynics, including his friend Degas, who believed Tissot’s religious conversion was more to do with the increased sale of his work than to his religious beliefs. Could this be true? To give Tissot the benefit of the doubt one has to remember that there was a great revival of the Catholic church and its preaching in France during the later part of the nineteenth century, which was a counter reaction to the anti-clerical spirit of the Third Republic.

L’Apparition médiumnique (The Mediumistic Apparition) by James Tissot (1885)

It was not just the Catholic religion that Tissot embraced. He also took up Spiritualism and attended séances which had become very popular in the late nineteenth century and which had given him some comfort during the days following his wife’s death. In two séances Tissot attended, he was “visited” by an apparition of his beloved Kathleen, and despite one of the mediums later jailed for fraud, Tissot’s beliefs remained unshaken and he completed a work in mezzotint, L’Apparition médiumnique (The Mediumistic Apparition) in 1885. Tissot kept the picture in a special room in his house which he reserved for private spiritualistic séances.

Tissot in Palestine

This great interest in Catholicism led to the last great project embarked on by Tissot. He decided to dedicate his time in illustrating the whole of the Bible. This first stage of this mammoth task was to concentrate on the New Testament and Tissot started the illustrative work in 1866. Eight years later and with 365 illustrations completed his artistic labour was complete. Tissot was a perfectionist and to ensure the settings for the illustrations were accurate he made a number of trips to Palestine.

Tissot on the way to the Greek monastery of Mar Sara while he was studying the country between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

The first trip started in October 1885 and lasted five months. He would return again to this biblical land in in 1889 and 1896. Whilst in Palestine Tissot recorded the landscape, architecture, costumes, and customs of the Holy Land and its people, which he recorded in photographs, notes, and sketches. This enabled Tissot to paint his many figures in costumes he believed to be historically authentic, and the completed series of watercolours had great archaeological accuracy. Tissot’s typical daily routine was recorded by Cleveland Moffett, the American journalist, author, and playwright in the March 1899 issue of the McClure’s Magazine, an American illustrated monthly periodical which was very popular at the turn of the 20th century. He wrote:

“…six o’clock saw him out of his bed even on dark winter mornings and seven o’clock found him at the Convent Marie Réparatrice, bowing before the candles and listening to the chant of the kneeling women…….and then, after eating, set forth to work, riding through the streets of Jerusalem, a servant trotting besides him with colors and brushes in a basket, and a large umbrella for shade, and such other things an artist needs. Then would come two hours’ sketching the putting down of numberless backgrounds for the Christ story…… and after food [lunch] came another excursion within or without the city and two hours more work……After dining quietly, M. Tissot spent his evenings in reading and reflection…”

Journey of the Magi, by James Tissot (c. 1894)

One of his finest works of the series was his opaque watercolour over graphite on grey wove paper entitled Journey of the Magi. The Magi are depicted in their flowing saffron robes being guided by the star. They have come from their individual lands in the east in their search for the new-born Jesus. The setting is the vast, arid landscape of the volcanic hills on the shores of the Dead Sea between Jericho, the Kedron Valley, and Jerusalem. The painting is a juxtaposition of beautiful shimmering masses of golden yellows, soft purples and rich browns. Look how Tissot has magically contrasted the highlights and shadows. The leading riders almost step out of the picture making us feel that we are almost there with them. The three wise men lead the procession. Tissot’s depiction of the three men differentiates their ages by the colour of their beards. All have weather-beaten darkened faces which is in contrast to the brightness of their golden robes. The long trail of men riding their camels spreads out far beyond the mountain range and vanishes into the distance.

Jesus at Bethany by James Tissot (1886-1894)

Once Tissot returned to Paris he set about rendering his sketches into actual paintings. The finished series became known as Tissot’s Bible and he wrote a foreword for the tome. Although he no doubt wrote from the heart the solemn words of the introduction now appear self-righteous, mystical and somewhat embarrassing.  Cleveland Moffett, the American journalist, author, and playwright in his article about James Tissot wrote an article for the March 1899 issue of the McClure’s Magazine entitled Tissot and his Paintings of the Life of Christ, in which he talked about Tissot’s artistic methodology:

“…M.Tissot, being now in a certain state of mind, and having some conception of what he wished to paint, would bend over the white paper with its smudged surface, and looking intently at the oval marked for the head of Jesus or some holy person, would see the whole picture there before him, the colors, the garments, the faces, everything that he needed and already half conceived. Then, closing his eyes in delight, he would murmur to himself ‘How beautiful! Oh, that I may keep it! Oh, that I may not forget it.’ Finally putting forth his strongest effort to retain the vision, he would take brush and color and set it all down from memory as well as he could…”

Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray by James Tissot (1886-1894)

In his watercolour, Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray, we see Jesus seeking solitude for prayer following the miracle of the loaves and fishes, at the summit of a mountain. It is a dramatic, some would say, melodramatic image, seen from below as we look up and see Jesus depicted, arms held out, against a night sky, with his gleaming white robes backlit by the radiance of the stars and the crescent moon.

The Soul of the Penitent Thief in Paradise by James Tissot (1886-1894)

In his work, The Soul of the Penitent Thief in Paradise, Tissot depicts the tiny figure of the thief being literally lifted by angels into orbit above the earth. Maybe the work is more to do with spiritualist apparitions than religious visions.

What Our Saviour saw from the Cross by James Tissot (1886-1894)

Probably the quirkiest, and of questionable taste, is his painting, What Our Saviour saw from the Cross. Look carefully at the centre foreground and you will see the feet of Christ and we, as mere spectators, are literally made to feel that it is us who is hanging from the cross. It was this kind of realism which appealed to the Catholic faithful in the 1890’s.

Portrait of the Pilgrim (Portrait du pèlerin) by James Tissot (1886-1894)

Tissot even included a self-portrait in one of his biblical scenes, Portrait of a Pilgrim. Tissot closed the published volumes of The Life of Christ with this funerary self-portrait and a plea to the reader to pray for him. In the depiction we see him standing among articles associated with rites for the dead: tapers, a draped coffin, wreaths, and holy water. In the background, a large wreath surrounds the distinctive “JTJ” monogram with which he signed some of his works. But there is more to this picture than first meets the eye. While Tissot raises his right hand in a gesture of benediction, his left hand seems transparent, almost like a ghostly apparition. Look how the lit candles flicker, almost as if a sudden gust of air—or a spirit—has passed through the room.

Tissot’s Bible was an immediate success and the Paris art world was thrown into turmoil.  The series became a talking-point in artistic circles. An exhibition of 270 of the 350 pictures was held in 1894 at the Salon du Champs-de-Mars and it was the greatest public success of Tissot’s career. The public were overwhelmed by the paintings with some women sinking to their knees and even crawling around the rooms in reverent adoration. After years of criticism Tissot had finally given the public what they desired– a mystical godliness which encapsulated the religious ambience of the day.  After the Paris exhibition the illustrations were shown in London and, in 1898, toured America where the entrance fees to view Tissot’s work raised in excess of $100,000.  In 1900, the Brooklyn Museum purchased this set of 350 watercolours, popularly known as The Life of Christ, and to this day, they remain one of the institution’s most important early acquisitions.

The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ by James Tissot

The success of the exhibitions led to a publication of The Life of our Lord Jesus Christ with its 350 illustrations by Tissot.  It was first published in France in 1897 and later in both England and America.  Tissot received a million francs in reproduction rights from the French publisher alone.  The success of the book and the paintings ensured James Tissot would be a very rich man for the rest of his life.

The Ark Passes Over the Jordan by James Tissot (1889-1901)
Part of the Old Testament Series.

Tissot inherited the Chateau de Buillon from his father in 1888 and from that date onwards divided his time between there and his house in Paris. He lived in considerable style and surrounded himself with servants and relatives, one of who was his niece Jeanne Tissot, whom he left the chateau and all its contents when he died. After the tremendous success of the Life of Christ series he decided to illustrate the Old Testament and made his final trip to the Holy Land in 1896. Sadly, Tissot never completed his Old Testament series but before his death in 1902 he had completed ninety-five of the illustrations and these were shown at an exhibition at the Salon du Champs-de-Mars in 1901.

James Tissot
                                                                     (1836-1902)

Whilst overseeing renovations in the gardens at Chateau de Buillon he caught a chill and died on August 8th, 1902, aged 66. At the time of his death his reputation had begun to decline but nowadays his works of art are appreciated by more and more people.


Most of the information I used for the five parts of the James Tissot blog came from information I found in Christopher Wood’s 1986 biography of Tissot which is an excellent read, full of beautiful pictures.

If you would like to read the full March 1899 article about James Tissot as it appeared in the McClure’s Magazine by Cleveland Moffett,   entitled Tissot and his Paintings of the Life of Christ, then copy and paste the URL below into your browser:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015030656113;view=1up;seq=415