French painter. He took as his subjects naturalistic still lifes and quiet domestic scenes that recall the Dutch tradition. His work is a complete contrast to that of his contemporaries, the rococo painters. He developed his own technique, using successive layers of paint to achieve depth of tone, and is generally considered one of the finest exponents of genre painting.
Life Pupil or assistant of Coypel and van Loo, Chardin took early advantage of the taste for Dutch and Flemish still life prevalent in France in the early 18th century, and developed, from this kind of subject, paintings that were equally distinct from those of the Netherlands and from the elegance of Jean-Baptiste Oudry or Baptiste Monnoyer. His art, that of a realist in the ‘age of artificiality’ of Louis XV and François Boucher, is visual testimony to the existence of a cultivated bourgeoisie, as distinct from the court as from the peasantry, and the whole of his life was placidly spent in this milieu in Paris. His early still-life paintings, for example The Skate (Louvre, Paris), greatly admired by Nicolas de Largillièrre, instantly secured his admittance to the Académie, of which he became the treasurer and ‘tapissier’, hanger of pictures in the Salon. His own art was never particularly profitable, and in 1752 he received a pension from the king; he was lodged in the Louvre from 1757.
Importance Chardin is a ‘modern’ among 17th-century French painters in the largeness of design and the study of light which gave both to his figures (for example La Pourvoyeuse, Louvre) and to the vessels and foodstuffs of the bourgeois table a dignity and interest of their own. In later life he took to pastel, in which, as a self-portrait (Louvre) shows, he excelled La Tour. With a structural quality of design admired by cubists and a use of broken colour that has been called Impressionist, he combined a love of simple things in which the essence of his genius is to be found, and in his revelation of a profound beauty underlying an apparent simplicity his art is a parallel to that of Vermeer.
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