home > article > Thing of the Day — Chardin
- by Nancy, January 05, 2010
Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin
“Still Life with Fish and a Copper Pot”
This is one of my favorite artists, the eighteenth century master of all things humble and home. The color especially resonates right now in the midst of the bleak beauty of another north-east winter. On the kitchen counter: the makings of a good dish, and more than that, the light of inspiration. Laura and I subtitled Jellypress “Old recipes, modern life.” Mostly people assume that this means we are bringing the old recipes with us into modern life, such as when I baked challah with my son who I wish to teach a connection to his ancestry and their old foodways. Laura and I talk about wanting to shed some of this goody-two-shoes image of being the dutiful daughters of the kitchen. So sometimes “old recipes, modern life” means breaking tradition, leaving the old recipes behind if that’s what’s necessary to move forward. This is what I’m thinking about a lot now in my painting, and especially when I look at the Chardin, which I cherish for its light and economy, but know that I can’t paint like that now. To bring that old recipe entire into the present would be to deny the present time, to look backward instead of forward. It also would be to deny the viewer the opportunity to enter the painting imaginatively, and it would deny the forward movement of painting from the moment it came into its own after the invention of photography.
This is what I was thinking about when I painted myself recently, a self-portrait from this photograph my son took of my back. I knew I couldn’t just copy it in the manner of Chardin, or any other old master, even though I am trained as a realist painter, fluent in the art of illusion. I wanted something more. Something like what Virginia Woolf wrote in her memoir A Sketch of the Past: “If I were a painter . . . I should make a picture . . . of things that were semi-transparent; I should make curved shapes showing the light through but not giving a clear outline. Everything would be large and dim . . .”
Instead I painted it like this. I hope you understand. It has, hopefully, the light of inspiration.
see also: Old recipe: Modern Child