CHARDIN, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon
(b. 1699, Paris, d. 1779, Paris)

The Soap Bubble

c. 1739
Oil on canvas, 61 x 63 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Chardin's career started with a large and untypical, dramatic, genre scene known to the Goncourt brothers but destroyed at the Commune - which showed a barber-surgeon aiding a man wounded in a duel. It had been painted for a barber-surgeon, to serve as a signboard outside his premises, and it is thus comparable to the 'enseigne' which Watteau had painted for Gersaint. There Watteau had at last brought his people in from countryfied open-air settings and collected them in an urban environment. Chardin began with a Parisian street scene, but his later genre pictures carry us indoors into much more intimate, and less animated, scenes.

In these scenes, although other figures can be visible in the background, the first impression is of a single figure, on which the eye concentrates even while this figure concentrates on a task. Such concentration is typical of Chardin; even when the subject is a boy idly building a card house, or blowing bubbles, there is an intentness that lifts the trivial pastime into an occupation. Unlike Greuze, Chardin never allows his people to ogle the spectator, to act the housemaid or village girl; they are absorbed, absorbed almost literally in the wonderful paint surface which seems to express integrity by the very oil medium.