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He was called "the artist of animals and fruits." He had a significant influence on Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne. In art, this artist sought naturalness and humanity as opposed to the official Rococo style. All this is about Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin and his painting "Prayer before dinner". What is the main dispute of art critics about this picture?
The 18th century French artist Jean Simeon Baptiste Chardin was known for his still lifes and genre paintings. His sophisticated and realistic style influenced a number of the greatest artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). Chardin's canvases were simple, but masterful in execution. The world of Chardin is a world with feeling (not gallantry), with humility (not vanity), with simplicity (not creepy). For the bourgeois establishment, Chardin's works represented a salutary contrast to the "decadent aristocratic fragility" of many of the artist's colleagues (including Watteau).
Animal and Fruit ArtistThe works that brought him recognition - "La Raie" ("Ray") and "The Buffet" (Buffet), demonstrate his realistic representations and confirmed his status as "artist of animals and fruits". From here Chardin developed his mastery of still life. He once said about painting: “We use colors, but we paint with our senses,” and for him still lifes had a life of their own. As the French writer of the XIX-XX centuries Marcel Proust (1871–1922) wrote: “We learned from Chardin that the pear is alive like a woman, and an ordinary ceramic object is as beautiful as a precious stone”. Then the love for painting of genre works grew. His works have gone through a long evolutionary path from a simple still life to everyday scenes of everyday life in French society. The successful reputation of the artist led to a favorable acquaintance with King Louis XV, to whom Chardin presented the painting "Prayer before dinner".
The plot of the pictureDepicting an everyday scene from the life of an ordinary French peasant family of the third estate, Chardin does not regret the lyrical tones and emotions embedded in the picture. Sensuality and emotionality were the creative credo of this master. In the first place here is labor, tenderness, piety. On the right is such a homely and simple mother figure. She sets the table while teaching her children to pray. The viewer caught the moment when the mother stopped to look at her youngest child and listen to every word of his first prayer. A touching detail - the game is interrupted (the drum seems to have just been hung on the back of a chair), all the plates are already full of soup, but you can't start your meal until the prayer ends. It is likely that these are the first independent words of a small child's prayer. The face of the praying baby is hidden from the viewer. Only plump cheeks and a slightly upturned nose are visible. The child's light dress almost merges with the color of the tablecloth. Chardin managed to achieve in Prayer Before Dinner an amazing penetration and warmth, home comfort and calm joy. This was done with the help of the striving and connected glances of all the heroes of the picture: both the older sister and the mother look at the younger child with tenderness and patience, who, in turn, follows the instructions of his mother (apparently, she repeats the words of the prayer). The older sister says a prayer - her folded hands are visible above the edge of the table.The main thing here is not the history of the social unit from the third estate. No. The main thing here is the uniquely recreated atmosphere of a homely spiritualized moment. Prayer before a meal in Christianity for a long time preceded the meal, but today this custom is practically forgotten. Its text is simple and largely free. These are just a few words of gratitude to the Lord for the given food. The magical atmosphere and soft light depicted create a sense of ritual and holiness, similar to the atmosphere in a monastery (where the tradition of thanksgiving before meals comes from).
Boy or girlA controversial point and a real mystery in the picture is the gender of the child - is it a boy or a girl? A number of art critics believe that this is still a boy. The fact that he is wearing a dress should not be embarrassing. These are the common clothes of young children in the 18th century. For example, the modern American cultural scientist Karin Calvert argued that the tradition of dressing a little boy in a dress existed until the end of the 18th century: “Boys, before putting on a man's suit, went through three clearly defined stages: the first 3-4 years in skirts, the next 3-5 years - in children's pants and another 2-3 years - in a slightly lightweight version of an adult costume. " The second additional argument in favor of a male child is a hanging drum (a toy mostly played by boys). However, such a well-known specialist in the artist's work as Inna Nemilova, the author of the book "Simon Chardin and his paintings in the State Hermitage" (1961), has no doubt that we are faced with two girls. “A young mother, pouring the soup, simultaneously tries to get the two daughters to repeat the words of the pre-dinner prayer. (…) Chardin's great creative success is the portrayal of the youngest girl. Both the child's feelings and the posture and movement characteristic of him are conveyed with exceptional subtlety. " Whoever this child is - a boy or a girl - this, of course, does not detract from the beauty and touchingness of the plot.
Color and lightThe color palette is deliberately created from soft undertones, warm colors, so that everything in the picture - both faces, chairs, and clothes - convey an equally soft and cozy atmosphere in the house. This family is not rich (the decoration of the room is modest and clean), but not poor either (the clothes of the heroes are beautiful and neat). An additional sense of magic creates a soft light that illuminates the characters and shimmers from the left side.
Marcel Proust wrote about the artist: “Everyday life will charm you if you begin to absorb Chardin's paintings as lessons in life. Then, having understood the life of his painting, you will discover the beauty of life. " Indeed, in the conditions of an all-consuming life, constant bustle, people sometimes miss such touching family moments, simple and ordinary, but no less charming. This is the lesson Chardin wanted to teach - to stop and feel the moment of life.
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