Among the most admired still-life painters of all times, Chardin was undoubtedly the greatest of the eighteenth century. However, after his death in 1779 oblivion rapidly overtook his name and art until his rediscovery in the mid-nineteenth century by the ‘Realist’ critic Théophile Thoré, also the champion of Vermeer, and the Goncourt brothers who revived the taste for French rococo art.
Chardin’s first publicly exhibited works were still lifes and it was remarkable that a painter in this 'lowly' genre should be admitted to the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture as he was in 1728 with his presentation piece of The Ray (musée du Louvre, Paris). He supplemented his income from still-life painting with the production of genre scenes, often depicting quiet domestic interiors or children at play. He exhibited from 1737 at the Salon, whose exhibitions he would later organize and won the approval both of the King Louis XV and the influential critic Dennis Diderot. His still lifes ranged from large, complex compositions such as the 1729 Buffet (musée du Louvre, Paris) and the Still Life with Attributes of the Arts (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) of 1766 to simple, small still lifes of fruit such as the Bowl of Strawberries (Private Collection) and paintings of simple kitchen implements with basic provisions such as eggs or fish.
Chardin’s contemporaries marveled at his ability to render a variety of surfaces with warmth and truth and to place them in a space around which air seemed to circulate. Without resorting to the trickery of trompe l’oeil painting he could capture the sheen of a silver goblet, the fuzzy warmth of a peach or the polished wood of a violin in such an effortless, understated way that how he achieved it mystified his admirers; Diderot called him ‘the Great Magician’. Chardin is also greatly admired for his figural paintings especially those of servants at work such as The Scullery-Maid (Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow) and children at play such as The House of Cards (National Gallery, London). Chardin painted different versions or variants of many of his most popular compositions which adds to our interest in his obsessive dissection of seemingly simple pictorial ideas.
Top Auction Results for Chardin
Sold for $4,002,500
New York, Christie’s, 30 January 2013, Old Master Paintings I, lot 38
Still Life With a Glass Mug, Three Walnuts, a Basket of Peaches and Two Pears
Sold for $2,200,00
New York, Sotheby’s, 17 January 1992, Important Old Master Paintings, lot 65
Le Chien Barbet
Sold for 8,000,000 FF ($1,495,047)
Paris, Ader, Picard, Tajan, 14 December 1992, Importants Tableaux Anciens, lot 53