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

The Kitchen Maid

Oil on canvas, 46 x 38 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

This interior is reminiscent of the interiors of David Teniers' era. Light and colour are subdued, nothing is sudden or jarring. However, the reference to Netherlandish kitchen scenes is merely superficial, for the similarity is restricted only to the choice of props and the predominantly brown colouring. It would also be wrong to see any allegorical statement in this scene. It simply shows a kitchen maid in an indeterminate room, pausing for a moment in her work. Her expression is one of neither sadness nor joy, her gaze is aimless but not forlorn. The pictorial space, which initially appears to be firmly bounded, turns out to be a kind of nowhere, whose shelter is created entirely by an inner integrity. The moment of contentment and repose freezes into timelessness, into an eternity that harbours a refuge from fear and transience.

Chardin exhibited this work at the Salon of 1739 as La ratisseuse de navets (Woman Scraping Turnips). He painted four versions of the Kitchen Maid. In addition to the Washington version, there is one in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, and another in the collection of the Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst in the Netherlands. A signed version is lost since 1918.