Our November artist, Jean-Siméon Chardin, lavished time and great care on still life paintings of foods and genre scenes of everyday children and families. So what better artist for November, when we in the United States gather for a special Thanksgiving feast with family and friends, and give thanks to God for His blessings?
We’ll look briefly at a couple of Chardin’s still lifes and spend most of our time on the genre scene called Saying Grace.
Read on to:
- Learn a little about Jean Siméon Chardin (Shar dan)
- Be delighted by his paintings
- See activities to help you and your children explore and enjoy Chardin’s work
- See a photo of Molly, the Artsy Corgi
Chardin (1699- 1779) was born in Paris and never lived anywhere else. The son of a carpenter, Chardin was apprenticed at about 14 to a history painter. Even though he never traveled to Rome or the Netherlands, Chardin could study the works of artists from all over Europe in the various private collections and art markets of Paris.
He went on to join the Academie de Saint Luc (Luke) and open his own studio. (Luke, the gospel writer, was once considered the patron saint of artists, so artist guilds were named for him). Membership in such a guild was usually required for an artist to sell his or her work to the public and to have apprentices.
Though he trained with a history painter, Chardin never had an interest in that type of art. He also resisted the highly decorative rococo style popular in France at that time. Instead Chardin painted still lifes and genre scenes of everyday French people.
Near the end of his life, when his eyesight was failing, Chardin did some beautiful pastel portraits, such as the one of himself working at an easel. Look closely at his eyes and see that he’s looking at himself in a mirror before continuing his self-portrait. Don’t you just love those enormous round glasses? And his curious head gear?
Chardin’s warm, expressive paintings were loved and bought by collectors across Europe and today are in numerous museums.
In Chardin’s work we see influences from the still life and genre art of The Netherlands in the 1600s. Like Dutch artists, such as Maria van Oosterwyck (see my post about her in March, 2021), Chardin lavished his talents on making still lifes realistic. The many intricate shapes and the red accents catch your attention. His still lifes show off gleaming silver and delicate china. You feel as if you could reach out and touch the fuzzy surface of a peach or the ridges of a walnut sitting in its shell. In the Basket of Peaches the knife handle seems to jut out into our space, showing Chardin’s mastery of perspective.
In Chardin’s genre paintings, we catch glimpses of the clothing and interior settings of middle-class French people. We see women check a child’s lessons, arrive home with food from the market, and children play with tops and blow bubbles—all things we and our children can identify with.
In Saying Grace, a mother is putting a meal on the table for her 2 children, who look like they’ve just stopped their play. Notice the drum hanging on the front chair. Chardin’s colors are warm and inviting—muted reds, warm browns, and a rich teal blue.
Apparently the mother has just asked the smaller child to say grace, and she gazes lovingly at the child’s hands folded in prayer.
Activities to Help You and Your Children further explore Saying Grace
Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the paintings and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary. Here are some things to notice:
- What do they think the small pot and pan in the foreground are? (Probably the pot holds coals from a stove or fireplace to warm people’s feet, and the long-handled pan carries the live coals to and from.
- Encourage children to see how the reds on the smaller child’s skirt and hat are repeated on the chairs and inside the foot warmer. That catches our attention and moves our eyes around the painting.
- What do they think about the little chair the child is sitting in? How will the child reach the table to eat?
This genre painting is so true to its 1700s time period in France, that you and your children may be interested to learn and discuss some of the following:
- Did they notice the very pointy shoes the mother’s wearing?
- Children may also be interested to know that the small child in the foreground may be a boy. From the 1500s to the early 1900s, little boys usually wore skirts just like girls. This made potty training easier, as pants of that time often had rather intricate fastenings (zippers weren’t invented until the late 1800s and only came into use in men’s and children’s clothing in the 1920s and 30s). So for a long time boys wore dresses until somewhere between 2 and 8. When they reached the age to wear pants, there might be a celebration of this milestone in growing up.
- Certain styles of hats, belts, less lace, darker colors, etc. all help art historians decide if a young child is a girl or boy. But since clothes were expensive to make or buy, parents would often hand down clothes as needed, despite style, so it’s hard to be sure.
- Children may enjoy looking at a couple other of Chardin’s paintings of children here and here
- Older children may enjoy researching clothing styles through the centuries. Here are a few questions to get them thinking:
- How often were pointy shoes in style?
- When and why did men begin wearing pants.
- What are some other names for pants?
- When was the zipper invented and when did it first get used in clothes?
- What about buttons and pockets?
Before You Go
If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to making art museum visits a fun masterpieces for you whole family!
Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.
Molly’s wearing her French beret and posing with a pumpkin in honor of Thanksgiving and Chardin’s work. She and I hope you enjoyed this peek into the ordinary life of 18th-century France, and will come back next time for a Devotion based on Chardin’s painting, Saying Grace.