Soap Bubbles

7:00 AM

Jean-Siméon Chardin, Soap Bubbles, 1734

Chardin’s Soap Bubbles, painted at the pinnacle of his abilities, exemplifies the values of the Enlightenment as well as the style of the man himself.

Born in Paris in 1699, Chardin always had talent with painting. Perhaps more than any painter I’ve researched, he took the traditional route to painting success. He apprenticed to several lesser-known painters during his early years, although little of his work from this time survives. In 1728 he was admitted at an unusually young age to the French Royal Academy, where he would remain an active member for the rest of his life. His first Salon exhibition came in 1737. In both of these organizations he took a leadership role. He held every major position in the Royal Academy, and even took the honor of deciding which paintings should be hung where in certain years. He never left Paris, and he began painting more and more for the king. Eventually, he became the highest-paid painter in the king’s retinue before Chardin's death in 1779.

His style was cold and analytical. He painted most of his scenes with much emotion—many were still-lifes and even his domestic scenes generally depicted chastity and calmness rather than a violent event. This painting in particular seems to be an apt flagship for his life’s work. It is hard to imagine this painting having a huge emotional effect on someone. The subject matter seems more than a little dull, and the way it is painted seems dedicated to accuracy rather than effect. Chardin instead emphasizes the creative and investigative aspects of the enlightenment. The soap bubbles symbolize the spirit of discovery, or as Kant puts it “ escaping from their own immaturity by cultivation of the mind.”

Chardin is honestly not my favorite artist. I think that his paintings show disturbingly little emotion and his still-lifes generally creep me out at best. His domestic scenes, though kind of pretty, feel like they’re encased in ice. However, I can understand his value as an artist. His sense of color and proportion, particularly in his later still-lifes, is unparalleled. He paints everything true to form and subtly uses lighting to bring out the beauty in his domestic scenes. More so than that, he provides a heavy counterbalance to the extravagance of rococo, providing painting as an additional example of western thought’s trend towards enlightenment rationality in the 18th century.

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