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Chardin ( 1699- 1779) Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Museo del Prado presents the exhibition Chardin, a comprehensive survey of the work of Jean Siméon Chardin (1699-1779), one of the leading names in 18th-century French painting who has never been the subject of an exhibition in Spain, which only houses three of his paintings, all in the Museo Thyssen. After being shown at the Palazzo dei Diamante in Ferrara, the exhibition is presented in Madrid thanks to the sponsorship of Fundación AXA which, as was the case with the Turner exhibition, has allowed for the presentation of a major exhibition on a painter who has not previously been the focus of one in Spain. It comprises 57 paintings by this great master of the still life and of genre painting, including some works not shown in the version of the exhibition seen in Italy.

Chardin ( 1699- 1779)

Basket of Wild Strawberries, oil on canvas, 38 x 46 cm. c. 1760. Paris, Private Collection

Since the exhibitions on 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, the present exhibition offers a rare opportunity to appreciate Chardin’s work and is the first on the artist to be held in Spain. 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 generous collaboration of a remarkable number of leading American and European institutions - particularly the Musée du Louvre, which has lent 11 works - as well as that of private collectors has made it possible to realise the challenging aim of bringing together some of Chardin’s most celebrated paintings for the present exhibition.

A unique painter

“I make use of colours but I paint with sentiment”, Chardin himself said of his way of painting. The result was works that are very different to those of the other French painters of the 18th century such as Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard or David. The artist described how he focused on the objects in his still lifes: “I have to forget everything that I have seen and even the way that others have depicted these motifs.”

In the words of the exhibition’s curator, Pierre Rosenberg, Honorary Director of the Louvre and the leading expert on Chardin: “If I had to define his still lifes in a single word, that word would be ‘silence’”. And indeed it is this palpable silence in Chardin’s still lifes that differentiate them from the work of most of the other leading painters in that genre, which had traditionally been considered a minor one and whose recognition in the 18th century favoured the development of Chardin’s highly distinctive style.

Chardin enjoyed success in his own lifetime, while later artists such as Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Morandi and Lucien Freud considered him their master.

The accompanying Catalogue

The scholarly catalogue of the exhibition, edited by Pierre Rosenberg, the exhibition’s curator, will include a short introduction, a principal essay on Chardin, short introductions to the different chapters and entries on all the works, written by Pierre Rosenberg. It also includes an essay by the renowned art historian Renaud Temperini on 18th-century French paintings, and another by Ángel González, art historian and professor at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, on Chardin and his critics.

Published in Spanish, the catalogue will also include an anthology of texts on Chardin, a chronology of his life and a bibliography of the specialist literature.

More information.