Chardin’s sensual still lifes

Chardin was really the first to convey an intimate and unpretentious love for the still lifes he painted through his creamy brushstrokes and total attention to the objects themselves. We can not only distinguish him as an artist who adopted a style that was unique during his time, but one that gave new meaning to the still life genre in general.

The critic Norman Bryson suggests that the ease with which Chardin’s objects are presented comes from his detachment from conveying any sort of philosophical meaning, and “the hush of the Chardin interior, its informality and sense of ease, creates an equilibrium between attention and inattention that makes much of previous still life, both in Spain and in Holland, seem artificially stimulated and out of balance.” No longer were arrangements of fruit and flowers a way of criticizing the gluttony of the middle class or a rejection of worldly pleasures. By presenting layers of brushstrokes that stand free of association, he was moving in the direction of later painters such as Cezanne, where the quality of the paint and the way it was applied were the sole means of expression.

Like Cezanne, the placement of color is distributed throughout the painting, giving it a certain unspoken harmony. However, Chardin’s use of this technique further enhances the identity of the objects themselves instead of moving them into another plane of perception. The light that begins to hit the creamy-white teacup in Still Life with Brioche is absorbed by the two peaches that transition into the rosy-brown brioche as it slowly converges on the bleeding red cherries and bottle of liquor. This seemingly symmetrical composition is offset by the starkly green leaves with touches of white on top of the brioche. Chardin does not reveal his intentions outright, but teases us with his subtlety and acute awareness of all the elements of perception.

In his Water Glass and Jug, Chardin proves that his luscious brushstrokes do not depend on appetizing subjects. It’s as though he deliberately chooses the most unappealing objects to show us that the way he paints transcends the importance of real-life associations we make with the subject. The white glow of the onions reflects in the water as well as the bronze jug, as the composition comes together effortlessly yet allows his brushstrokes to almost breathe. In that sense, Chardin’s mastery of still life is his ability to give life to objects simply with layers of paint.