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

The Draughtsman

Oil on canvas, 81 x 64 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

A young man with a pigtail and a tricorn hat stands at a table sharpening with a knife a crayon in a holder. Before him on a drawing-board lies a half-finished sketch of a bearded man. The same youthful model is to be found in other paintings by Chardin, such as the House of Cards in the National Gallery in London and a similar picture in the Oskar Reinhart collection in Winterthur. The individual features of the sitter and the half-length treatment give the picture the character of a portrait, which was not, however, the artist's intention. Chardin's interest lay in the commonplace, in the aesthetic values of everyday life, which he - like Vermeer - brings out in the still-life posture of those he portrayed.

Chardin was received into the Paris Academy in 1728 as an animal and fruit painter. During the 1730s he produced a series of half-length portrayals of children, busily engaged at a table, in the style of The Draughtsman. Following the success of the latter, he produced a second version, which - signed and dated 1737 like the Berlin picture - is now in the Louvre. In 1738 The Draughtsman - which of the two versions is not certain was exhibited in the Paris Salon and in 1940 a mezzotint print by J. Faber brought it to the notice of a wider public.

Chardin's work is in striking contrast to the courtly art of his contemporaries, Boucher and Fragonard. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, he met with considerable success. In a certain sense his pictures represented a bourgeois world, which had grown tired of the cultural domination of the Court. The mere choice of subject satisfied a need for a simpler and more natural life - another component of the age of gallantry - and at the same time, managed to come up to the highest standards of painting.

In 1779 this painting was in Unter den Linden, the Berlin palace of Prince Henry, a brother of Frederick II. It may be identical with a picture of Chardin's which the king is known to have bought in 1747 in Paris through Count Rothenburg. The painting, which documentary evidence shows to have been in palaces at Potsdam during the nineteenth century, remained in the possession of the former royal house after the fall of the monarchy and was purchased in 193I for the Berlin Gallery.

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