Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Michael Kimmelman's book, The Accidental Masterpiece, On the Art of Life and Vice Versa, is one I pick up from time to time, and always find something to think about. Above is Soap Bubbles.

Every great painter is great by his or her own terms, Antoine Watteau's terms differeing from Gustave Courbet's, Jacques-Louis David's from Wassily Kandinsky's. Chardin was as great as any artist by the terms he set for himself, which were incredibly narrow: for almost his whole career, spanning half a century, nearly every minute of it spent in Paris, Chardin focused on what was not much farther than three or four feet in front of his nose. . . .Chardin's people are maids and schoolteachers and wives, absorbed and inward turning, oblivious to us. Their absorption becomes the emotional essence of the work. (p.215)

He feels they are not the same as Vermeers, bathed in light, kind of other-wordly figures. Rather these people are real and solid, not so ethereal. What I didn't notice at first is that the compositions are relatively spare; every detail is not included. This seems to contribute to the serenity of the works.

As far as Kimmelman is concerned, Chardin had absorbed the philosophies of the times, understanding Locke and Newton. Kimmelman says critics have pointed to the paintng, Lady Taking Tea, as proto-modern "because the figures in them seem so completely absorbed in what they are doing, modernism exulting in the inward-looking autonomy that defines pure abstract painting". So perhaps the painting "is not just a picture of a woman drinking tea but a a mediation on our perception of a woman dringing tea. . . it's a picture about seeing, in other words." (p. 217)

What do you think?

More on him in the next post, I think. I'm interested in learning more about how Chardin influenced Cezanne and delighted Proust.

My daughter is always pestering me about my subjects, saying, how about doing a teapot? So far, no teapots.

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