“Chardin, the Painter of the Silence”
Madrid.- Since the exhibitions on Jean S. Chardin organised in conjunction with the bicentenary of his death and the tercentenary of his birth, in 1979 and 1999 respectively, there have been no further revisions of the relatively small oeuvre (around 200 works) of this admired and highly original artist. Featuring 57 paintings, “Chardin, the Painter of the Silence” offers a rare opportunity to appreciate Chardin’s work and is the first on the artist to be held in Spain, at the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The exhibition is currently on view, and can be seen until May 29th.
The exhibition is structured chronologically, covering the most important phases of the artist’s career from his beginnings in the second decade of the 18th century to his late pastels of the 1770s. Visitors will encounter some of Chardin’s most celebrated paintings, shown alongside other, little known canvases loaned from private collections, and some recently identified compositions. In addition, the version to be shown in the Prado includes 16 works not exhibited in Italy. They include “The Ray”, one of Chardin’s most important paintings, loaned from the Musée du Louvre; “The Attributes of the Arts”, from the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris, which is a large-format composition on an allegorical theme that has never previously been loaned to an exhibition; and the three versions of ‘The young School Teacher” (National Gallery London, National Gallery of Art Washington, and National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), now shown together for the first time in Madrid.
The exhibition opens with still lifes from the second half of the 1720s, including the celebrated painting “The Ray”, on loan from the Louvre. It was Chardin’s entry piece into the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris but the artist was only admitted in the lesser category of “Painter of animals and fruit”. At this point he broadened his areas of interest and introduced the motif of live animals in his paintings, as can be seen in the two canvases from the Museo Thyssen on display in this section: “Cat with a Piece of Salmon” and “Cat with a Rayfish”. The next section opens with still lifes from the 1730s, including “A green-necked Duck hanging on the Wall and a bitter Orange”, and “Still Life with a Porcelain Vessel and two Herrings suspended by pieces of Straw from a Nail in front of a Niche”.
Shown next, and also from this decade, are three examples from the celebrated “Soap Bubbles” series. Chardin worked in a variety of genres, never completely abandoning one in order to take up another and was continually inventive within all of them. He would also frequently return to earlier themes and simultaneously work on different paintings at the same time. In the 1730s, and influenced by 17th-century Dutch painting, the artist turned his attention to genre scenes. Chardin masterfully conveyed the meditative mood of his figures and the serene dignity of simple domestic tasks, while his stylistic evolution is clearly evident in these works. His brushstroke becomes more vaporous and the soft tonality heralds the pastels of his final years. In addition, he abandoned his use of models from the humbler social classes to focus on the bourgeois circle of his second wife. It was works such as “The young School Teacher”, seen here in three versions that have been brought together for the first time, “Boy with a Top”, and “Girl with a Shuttlecock”, that would bring Chardin true popularity in the second half of the 19th century.
The exhibition then turns to works from the 1750s and 1760s and to the artist’s return to the still life, a genre that he had almost completely abandoned. These compositions are clearly different to the works of the 1720s due to the presence of a greater variety and number of types of game, species of fruit and objects (costly pieces of porcelain and sophisticated glass ware). Among works from this period in the exhibition are the delightful “Basket of wild Strawberries”, “Glass of Water and Coffee Pot”, and “Bouquet of Carnations, Tuberoses and Sweet Peas in a white porcelain Vase with a blue Pattern”, the latter a masterpiece loaned by the National Gallery of Scotland. Works such of this type reveal a more agile, smoother type of brushstroke and also demonstrate the artist’s interest in painting reflections, transparent effects, light and shadow. The exhibition ends with two pastel portraits, the medium to which Chardin turned after he was obliged to abandon oil painting due to failing health and which provoked great surprise at the 1771 Salon. These pastels reveal Chardin’s confidence in his own powers and mark the end of his artistic career.
The Prado Museum (Museo del Prado) in the Spanish capital, Madrid, is the most prestigious museum in Spain and probably the largest gallery of classical paintings in the world. The museum features one of the world’s finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection. The building that is now the home of the Museo Nacional del Prado was designed on the orders of Charles III in 1785 by the architect Juan de Villanueva. Originally designed to house the Natural History Cabinet, construction was delayed by the War of Independence and the building’s final function was eventually decided by Charles III’s grandson, Ferdinand VII. Encouraged by his wife, Queen María Isabel de Braganza, the building became the new Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures. The Royal Museum, which would soon become known as the National Museum of Painting and Sculpture and following nationalization in 1868, the Museo Nacional del Prado (after the area of Madrid in which it is located), opened to the public for the first time in November 1819. Despite the size of the original building, space has always been a problem, and in 1971 the nearby Casón del Buen (which began life in 1637 as a ballroom for the Buen Retiro Palace) was acquired to house the 19th century collections from the Prado and “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. In 1992, this building was transferred to the Reina Sofia Museum of modern and contemporary art (along with “Guernica”), and the Prado once again had to look for more space. The museum’s exhibition area increased by more than 50% in 2007 with a new, modern extension designed by Pritzker prize winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. Visit the museum’s website at: http://www.museodelprado.es