The Beauty of Ordinary Things: A Unique Artistic Vision

The understated brilliance of Jean Siméon Chardin

Christopher P Jones
5 min readFeb 21

Soap Bubbles (c.1733/34) by Jean Siméon Chardin. Oil on canvas. 93 × 74.6 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, U.S. Image source NGA

Some artists depict the most explosive or awe-inspiring subjects in their art. They are drawn to the most impressive, gruesome or magnificent sides of life.

The 18th century painter Jean Siméon Chardin took the opposite approach.

Working in an era when art was at its most theatrical — known as the Rococo period — Chardin pursued a style of painting that treasured the subtle beauty of the world around him. In an age of lavish excess, he was an artist who placed extraordinary emphasis on the most commonplace things.

Chardin drew influence from 17th century Dutch art, which had already mastered still life painting and its numerous possibilities, filling bowls of fruit and bouquets of flowers with hidden references to hope, despair, patriotism and death.

Basket of Peaches, with Walnuts, Knife and Glass of Wine (1768) by Jean Siméon Chardin. Oil on canvas. 32 × 39 cm. Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Image source Wikimedia Commons

Chardin’s paintings do something else. They take us into the quietude of empty rooms and private recreations. Overt symbolism is dropped in favour of astute enchantment. Through depictions of loaves of bread, cutlery, saltcellars and coffee pots, his work creates a patchwork of texture and light that refuses to be trivial. A subject as simple as a basket of peaches is given the rich dignity of an important portrait.

In Basket of Peaches, notice how rich and plump the fruit is, and how Chardin has captured the slightly coarse texture of peach skin with patches of shadow. Notice also the knife wedged beneath the basket and how its oval handle sits proud of the tabletop with light falling on its silver tip.

Still-Life with Pipe and Jug (c.1737) by Jean Siméon Chardin. Oil on canvas. 32.5 × 40cm. Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Image source Wikimedia Commons

Finding Beauty in the Ordinary

The son of a court craftsman, Chardin trained with the Rococo history painters Pierre-Jacques Cazes and Noël-Nicolas Coypel. He first exhibited in the Paris salon in the 1730s where the simplicity of his compositions made an immediate…