Jean Simeon Chardin Saying Grace
Saying Grace, painted in 1740 by Jean Simeon Chardin conjures an atmosphere of tenderness and restraint through this polite scene of bourgeoisie everyday life. One of the most famous works of the eighteenth-century master, Saying Grace depicts a little boy with clasped hands, attentive to his mother's request to recite the prayer before they begin meal. Despite the attire of the child, the gender of the subject is most assuredly male, as it was common for boys to wear such clothing up until 'breeching', the ceremonial point, usually around eight years of age, when they would begin to wear recognisably male clothing. A popular scene for painters, particular with the Dutch masters of the seventeenth century, Saying Grace resonates with a welcoming sense of intimacy set in a domestic interior that appears to have benefitted from the rise in status of the aspirational middle classes. While artists contemporary with Chardin, such as Watteau and Boucher, found their subjects in the esteemed gardens of lords and in aristocratic tableaux, Chardin's sympathetic observations of family life have withstood the test of time. Capturing with a deft and affectionate touch the routines, daily habits, and mundane moments worthy of Vermeer, Chardin entered a new phase of his career, devoting himself to still lifes and interior scenes which had earned him success in the Salon of 1737, and the favor of King Louis XV, as well as a burgeoning customer base in Europe.
Saying Grace fell into oblivion ten years after the death of Louis XV, as the artist came to represent a radical opposition to the art of the French court and the dominant trend in French painting of the eighteenth century. Without doubt the greatest artist of his age Chardin was particularly interested in genre painting and Flemish Dutch painting of the seventeenth century, thus explaining his taste for a visual poetry of the everyday. As Chardin moved towards a delicate range of muted colors and light that became his trademark, his characters became more like vague avatars of an uncertain social environment. While initially a student of historical painting, this relentlessly inquisitive and creative mind turned instead to non-human elements, animals and fruit, rejecting the courtly tastes for nobility and bombast. Saying Grace is a fine example of the acute sensitivity of the artist's style, thematic concerns, and deft brushwork.
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