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by michwo 

Posted: 11 March 2018
Word Count: 110
Summary: What with reading about Danton and Robespierre and the French Revolution generally in Hilary Mantel's "A Place of Greater Safety", I've gone back in time to the 18th century and singled out a painter who was for one of the leading lights of the Enlightenment in France, Denis Diderot, the bee's knees, even though he is now remembered for his domestic scenes and still lifes: Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699-1779).

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How many pictures did you paint we’ve seen?
Two hundred was it?  Nothing went to waste.
A hare or skate or ray you deftly placed
Upon a table, next to a tureen.
We see the down on fresh plums in a bowl;
A woman peeling turnips looks the part,
And children in your pictures have a heart,
Blow bubbles, try to obviate a fall
Of cards stacked oh so carefully, succeed.
A vase of lilies glistens blue and white –
Nothing extraneous.  There is no need.
Your life was lived out in a sober light.
You were the eighteenth century’s Vermeer,
Cautious and frugal, to the people near.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 22:18 on 11 March 2018  Report this post
I've just posted a comment in the archive on 'The Child and the Date Palm'.

I like Chardin's work. Too many dead rabbits perhaps, but objects and people are equally engaging in these pictures. I’ll comment further soon.


michwo at 23:24 on 11 March 2018  Report this post
You've made a very good point without even trying here.
Perhaps line 3 should read:  A rabbit, skate or ray you deftly placed...
rather than:  A hare, etc.    And to add to my discomfiture I've just found out that 'skate' and 'ray' are pretty much synonymous!  A rabbit, skate or fruit (peach? pear?) you deftly placed...
Bless me, father, for I have sinned ... obviously.  Basically I've jumbled motifs here.  Is that acceptable or does it detract from the poem?

James Graham at 21:51 on 13 March 2018  Report this post
Hello Michael – I think they’re rabbits. All I know is that hares have longer ears. Anyway, ‘Rabbit, skate or peach’ sounds perfectly fine. This is a very accomplished sonnet, with a strict rhyme scheme and excellent lines in which you don’t mess about with normal word order so as to make the rhyme. Some of the best lines:
 We see the down on fresh plums in a bowl

It’s plain and simple, but it does highlight a significant detail, something not easy for a painter to execute but which Chardin does very skilfully.
And children in your pictures have a heart

Again, a simple line, but one that brings out the painter’s empathy with the people he depicts, not least the children. I can’t think offhand of a specific example, but some painters of aristocratic family scenes show children as decorative little dolls with little trace of a ‘heart’.
Your life was lived out in a sober light.

This line strikes me as close to the truth about Chardin. At least, as I looked at the paintings and then thought about your line, it struck me as very apt.

Chardin’s pictures are a refreshing change from aristocratic subjects. The kitchen utensils appeal to me as much as the people: if an artist uses all his skill to represent a cooking pot, the pot becomes a significant object, as worthy of attention as, say, a crystal chandelier or an antique vase. The artist celebrates the things that are used by ordinary people, and the uses that are made of these things.

Thank you for introducing me to another painter I didn’t know about. And the poem is technically very good, one of your best.


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