Chardin. The painter of silence

Chardin. Il pittore del silenzio
Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, from 17 October 2010 to 30 January 2011
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, from 28 February to 29 May 2011

Going to Ferrara to see Chardin may seem a bit strange. He is not the first artist who comes to mind when thinking of this city. But it is precisely this gap in perception, helping Italians discover someone who is unknown and perhaps unappreciated, which makes the trip worthwhile. As Pierre Rosenberg, the curator for the exhibition, pointed out to us the Emilia region is perhaps the place which might best understand Chardin’s art since it was also the birthplace of Giorgio Morandini.

1. Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)
Sustenance for a Convalescence, c. 1747
Oil on canvas - 45.5 x 34.5 cm
Private collection
Photo : Didier Rykner

2. Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)
Sustenance for a Convalescence, c. 1747
Oil on canvas - 46.2 x 37 cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Photo : National Gallery

Obviously, after two exhibitions in Paris also organized by Pierre Rosenberg in 1979 and 1999, we cannot expect anything really new here. However, eight paintings did not appear at either of these [1]. Number 50 in the catalogue is a study (ill. 1), a rare occurrence in this painter. In fact, according to Pierre Rosenberg, this would seem to be rather an unfinished painting in which we see how Chardin has his model pose in order to set up the elements which would go into elaborating his composition. The artist then undertook the final task of completion, a long and meticulous process. In all probability, then, this Sustenance for a Convalescence, close to the painting of the same subject in Washington (ill. 2), which hangs next to it in the exhibition, is a work in progress which Chardin never finished, just like the twelve rough drafts listed in the inventory after his death.

The Governess from Ottawa (ill. 3) is displayed here alongside a replica, missing from the Parisian retrospectives, which bears the attribution “Chardin and workshop”, an intriguing identification especially since Pierre Rosenberg confided that he does not really believe that a veritable workshop ever existed. However, this other version was perhaps produced by an artist close to him, and possibly with the master’s collaboration. The juxtaposition of the two canvases definitely reveals the lesser quality of the replica with much sharper contours than those in the original.
With a very perceptive hang, this exhibition offers comparisons which allow us to better understand the artist. Nevertheless, the show does present one disadvantage and that is the absence of any large formats, thus giving a misleading image of Chardin. The Ray at the Louvre, The Attributes of the Arts at the Musée Jacquemart-André and The Attributes of the Arts and the Awards They Receive will however be presented in Madrid at the second stop.

3. Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)
The Governess , 1739
Oil on canvas - 46.7 x 37.5 cm
Ottawa, Musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada

4. Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)
Portrait of a Young Boy, 1777
Pastel - 46.5 x 39 cm
Geneva, Jean Bonna’s collection
Photo : All rights reserved

Although Chardin did not draw, he produced some magnificent pastel portraits which many museums – including the Louvre – are loath to loan because they are so fragile. Thanks to the collector Jean Bonna, the visit ends with the portraits of a young girl and a young boy (ill. 4) in this technique but which were not at the Parisian exhibitions.

Pierre Rosenberg, Renaud Temperini, Flavio Gergonzi, Chardin. Il pittore del silenzio, Ferrara Arte, 2010, 240 p., 47€. ISBN : 9788889793107.

Visitor information : Palazzo dei Diamanti, Corso Ercole I d’Este, 21 – 44121 Ferrara. Tel : +31(0)532 244949. Open from Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm, Saturdays and evenings preceding a holiday fro 8.30 am to 6 pm, Sundays and holidays from 10.30 am to 3.30 pm. Rates : 10€ (reduced : 8€).

Didier Rykner, jeudi 28 octobre 2010


[1] Two of which will be displayed only in Madrid.

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