Thursday, October 16, 2014


Here is a painting of a very happy cat who found some lovely, fresh fish to eat in the kitchen while no one was paying attention.  This cat has her paw on the fish, as if she is saying, "It's mine!  I found it, and it's most definitely mine!"  Also, there are two more fish hanging on a hook, so after the cat eats the big fish, she will have those others to eat also.

Still Life with Cat and Fish, by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin
Nelson-Atkins Mseum of Art

This picture was painted in 1728 by a French artist named Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin.  The official name of the painting is Still Life with Cat and Fish.  I think this is a very good name for the painting because it describes exactly what is in it.  Mom took a photo of the painting in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, while she was working there one day.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (who, in my opinion, has a name that is much longer than it really needs to be) was born on November 2, 1699 in Paris.  He spent most of his life without ever leaving the city.  He lived on the Left Bank until Louis XV granted him a studio and living quarters in the Louvre.  His professional career began officially when he was admitted as a member of the Royal Academy of Painting in 1728.   

Self Portrait, 1771, Musée du Louvre
What's with the weird turban?

Chardin's paintings were reproduced as engravings, and for this reason, lots of people could see and admire his work.  In addition, the artist was able to earn income from the engravings.  Nowadays, we would call this "royalties."

Still Life, 1728,
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Many times, Chardin painted copies of his own work, and it is often hard to tell these copies from the originals.  You can see that the painting above is another version of the cat and fish picture from the Nelson.  The main difference is that the painting from the Madrid museum has a mortar and pestle instead of a tomato.  Or whatever that red thing is.

Another hungry cat!

Chardin worked slowly and only painted about 200 pictures total, which was an average of 4 per year.  His work wasn't much like the Rococo style of painting that was happening in France at the time.  Most artists painted subjects from history, but Chardin preferred still lifes.  He is now thought to be the most important painter of the still lifes in the 18th century.

Woman Cleaning Turnips, ca. 1738

Another thing Chardin liked to paint was ordinary people in their daily activities.  He got the idea for this from the 17th-century Low Country masters, who were his inspiration in teaching himself to paint.  Chardin found patrons among members of the French aristocracy, including Louis XV.  In spite of their humble subject matter, the paintings have a formal structure and a sense of harmony.  The artist is quoted as saying, "Who said one paints with colors?  One employs colors, but one paints with feeling."  

Saying Grace, ca. 1699
Unfortunately, other painters thought this lower level of society was not worth the bother of painting.  Toward the end of his life, as his eyesight began to get worse, Chardin worked more in pastels than in oils.  His last known oil painting was dated 1776.  The last time he showed work at the Salon was 1779, where several pastels were featured.  On December 6 of the same year, at the age of 80,  Chardin died in Paris.

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