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Jean Baptiste Simeon



still life painting - chardin

(Some notes by Chardin's contemporary Diderot.)

"This man is truly a painter; this man is a true colourist.
At the Salon, there are several small paintings by Chardin; they are nearly all of fruit and the accompaniments for a meal. What we see is nature herself; the objects are quite separate from the canvas and are so true that they deceive the eyes.
There is one which you see as you climb the staircase which deserves a closer look. The artist has placed an old Chinese porcelain vessel on a table, with two biscuits, a jar full of olives, a shallow container of fruit, two glasses half-filled with wine, a Seville orange and a pie.
When looking at paintings by other artists, I feel that I need new eyes; when looking at paintings by Chardin, I need only use those which nature gave me and use them well.
If I were to direct my child towards painting, this is the painting which I would buy. 'Make me a copy of this', I would say 'and then copy it again.' But perhaps nature is not more difficult to copy.
For this porcelain vessel is made of real porcelain, these olives are really separated from the eye by the water in which they arc floating; one only has to reach out and take these biscuits and eat them, cut open this orange and squeeze it, take this glass of wine and drink it, or pick up this fruit and peel it, or cut this pie with a knife.
This is the true harmony of colour and its reflections. Oh Chardin! It is not white, red or black that you grind on your palette: it is the very substance of your subjects; it is air and light that you dip your brush into and transfer and attach to the canvas.
After my child had copied and recopied this piece. I would give him The Skate by the same master. The subject is disgusting, but it is the very flesh of the fish, its skin and its blood; seeing the thing itself would affect you in the same way. Monsieur Pierre. study this piece well when you visit the académie and learn, if you can, the secret of using one's talent to redeem what is repulsive in nature.
This magic is incomprehensible. Thick layers of colour are applied one on top of the other, their effect seeping through from the hot bottom layer to the top. Sometimes it is as if a mist has been blown onto the canvas; and sometimes as if light foam had been thrown over it. Rubens, Berghem. Greuze and Loutherbourg would explain this to you
better than I; all could open your eyes to the effect. Come close and everything becomes blurred, flattens and disappears; stand back and everything is' created and takes shape again.
I have been told that Greuze was visiting the Salon and when he saw the painting by Chardin which I have just described, he looked at it and passed by, heaving a great sigh. This praise is shorter and more valuable than anything I could say.
Who will pay for paintings by Chardin once this rare man is no longer with us? You should know that this artist is still very able and that he speaks wonderfully of his art.
My, my friend, forget the story of Apelles's curtain and Zeuxis's grapes. It is easy to fool an impatient artist and the animals are poor judges of painting. Have we not seen birds in the royal gardens crack their heads against the worst perspectives? But it is you and I that Chardin deceives when he wants to."

"Salon of 1765"

"You have just arrived in time, Chardin, to restore my eyes, which your colleague. Challe, had so badly afflicted. Here you are again, you great magician. with your silent compositions. How eloquently they speak to the artist! Everything they say to him about the imitation of nature, the science of colour and harmony! How the air circulates around these objects! The light of the sun does not treat any better the disparate nature of the objects, which it illuminates. You have scant regard for friendly colors and hostile colors!
If it is true, as the philosophers say, that nothing is real except our sensations: that the emptiness of space or the very' solidity of bodies may be nothing, then let these philosophers teach me what they understand to be the difference between you and the creator, standing four paces back from the paintings.
Chardin is so true, so true and so harmonious, that although one only sees inanimate nature on the canvas, vases, cups, bottles, bread, wine, water, grapes. fruit and pies. his work stands out and sometimes even distracts you from two of the finest Vernets, beside which he must not hesitate to place his own work. "