Press Release

"We use colours, but we paint with our feelings." These are the words with which Jean Siméon Chardin (1699-1779), in refuting the Academic style then in vogue, liked to describe his, revolutionary for its time, way of creating art.
It is to this great protagonist of Eighteenth Century art that Ferrara Arte dedicates its next major exhibition, the first devoted to the artist in Italy. The exhibition, which will run from the 17th October 2010 to 30th January 2011, is organized in collaboration with the Museo del Prado in Madrid where it will travel after Ferrara, and is curated by Pierre Rosenberg, leading Chardin scholar, member of the Académie Française and President-director emeritus of the Musée du Louvre.

Chardin was one of the most original artists of his time. From a young age, he refused to follow the traditional paths of instruction through the academies and was one of the few young artists at the time not to make the Grand Tour in Italy. Furthermore, of all genres of painting, he avoided exactly those that in France at the time would have guaranteed status and fortune to the artist: the painting of historical or mythological subjects. Nonetheless, in 1728, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, to which Chardin had applied by submitting his first striking still lifes, recognized his talent and admitted him to their ranks as a "painter skilled in animals and fruits". Although he painted still lifes, which were considered a minor genre and therefore no guarantee of success, Chardin soon became well known within the competitive Parisian scene.

Over the next decade, he broadened his subject matter to include the human figure, with remarkable success. While Eighteenth Century France was busily engrossed in the luxurious life of the court and its fêtes galantes, fashioning a lifestyle from the ephemeral, Chardin was describing another reality. A contemplative and careful painter, he created the least "Parisian" canvases of century by painting silence: a silence which pervaded both his still lifes, picturing common domestic utensils arranged on rustic tables, and his interiors, in which the domestic servants and the offspring of the French bourgeois are shown thoughtfully going about their daily activities. Ornamental embellishment was banished, the pictures became poems to daily life, sensitively portraying humble people and transforming them into the key figures of their time. This period gave rise to such masterpieces as The Cellar Boy, The Governess and The Young Draughtsman in addition to the touching pictures of children at play, such as Soap Bubbles, Girl with Shuttlecock or Child with a Top. In each of these works, through an astonishing technical ability based on the correlations between tone and colour and the variations in the effects of light, the artist manages to convey to the observer his emotional response to his subjects.

Even when he returned to painting still life, Chardin continued to paint in this spirit, creating masterpieces like Bouquet of Carnations, Tuberoses and Sweet Peas, on loan from Edinburgh, about which Charles Sterling, one of the great art historians of the previous century, wrote: "Alongside Poussin and Claude Lorrain, Chardin is the one who has had the greatest influence on modern painting. Certain researches of Manet and Cézanne are inconceivable without Chardin. It would be hard to imagine anything more 'advanced' in the way of layout and pictorial handling than the Edinburgh's Vase of Flowers. It stands out above anything of the kind painted by Delacroix, Millet, Courbet, Degas and the Impressionists. Only in Cézanne and in post-Cézannian painting can we hope to find so much power in so much simplicity."

Chardin gained public appreciation of his works beginning with the canvases he exhibited at the Salon from 1737. His pictures were also enthusiastically greeted by the critics, including the great Denis Diderot, who in 1763 publically lauded the realism of the painter's still lifes. Chardin was also much admired by the King of France, Louis XV, to whom the painter gave The Diligent Mother and Saying Grace, receiving in return the sovereign's esteem, and in 1757, the great privilege of residing and working at the Louvre.

Towards 1770, problems with his health caused Chardin to slow down, gradually abandoning painting in oils. However, without losing spirit, the elderly master inaugurated a new season in his art, using the delicacy of pastels to create portraits of extraordinary psychological intensity. With these works, we conclude the long career of this artist, who for all his life conceived of painting as a means of knowing reality, of carefully avoiding anecdotal content, while aiming for a timelessness reflecting the harmonious perfection between form and emotion.

The elevation of humble household utensils and the small daily activities of common people into artistic subject matter and his extraordinary technical skills made Chardin one of the most loved by modern painters such Cézanne, Matisse, Braque, Picasso, Morandi and Paolini, not to mention Vincent Van Gogh, who regarded Chardin "as great as Rembrandt."

The exhibition in Ferrara and Madrid offers the occasion to retrace the key stages in Chardin's artistic career through a selection of works on loan from museums and private collections throughout the world, most notably, both for the quantity and the quality of the over 10 masterpieces generously lent, for the exceptional support of the Louvre.

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