With this issue of the Bulletin
the Institute of Arts announces an accession of major importance: The Attributes of the Arts,
by the French 18th-century master, Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin. The painting, purchased through the William H. Dunwoody Fund, is a mature work by one of the world's greatest interpreters of genre
and nature morte.
Recognized by critics and scholars as perhaps the most distinguished still life by Chardin to come to America, The Attributes of the Arts
is eloquent testimony of the enduring greatness of Chardin. In honor of its purchase the Institute has organized a loan exhibition, “French 18th-Century Painters,” bringing together thirty masterpieces by Chardin, Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, and other great painters of this period, from American museums and private collections.The Institute's new painting is signed and dated “Chardin 1766.” In that year Chardin was living, as the King's pensioner, in the Louvre, surrounded by artists and thinking, very naturally, about the rewards of his profession. He had already painted variations of the same theme. One had been purchased by Catherine the Great, and another was commissioned, as an overdoor piece, by Madame de Pompadour's brother, the Marquis de Marigny. The Institute's painting may have been intended for the official Salon (which Chardin arranged and hung each autumn in the Louvre) as it appears to have been more completely finished than the others.The Attributes of the Arts
was exhibited in the Salon of 1769 as the property of the Abbé Pommyer, Conseiller en la Grande Chambre du Parlement. The painting immediately attracted attention and was cited in no less than five newspaper reviews during the course of the exhibition. The painter Gabriel de Saint-Aubin made a pencil sketch of the painting in his copy of the livret
of the Salon which is now preserved in the Cabinet des Estampes of the Louvre, and Diderot, leader of the Encyclopaedists, wrote with great perception not only about the painter but the painting. Although the painting has passed through the hands of only three subsequent owners since the Salon of 1769, it has been exhibited in important exhibitions and praised by the most discerning critics of following generations.Writing almost a century after Chardin's death, the brothers de Goncourt reaffirmed what Diderot had seen in Chardin's art. They called Chardin the first of the modern painters, for he proved that it is not subject matter but the eye and hand and physical material of the artist which produce a masterpiece. Later scholars like Agnes Mongan, who has written the deeply perceptive article on Chardin and his special place in French 18th-century art, have not hesitated to place Chardin with the greatest of the old masters, comparing his strength of design to Poussin's, his treatment of paint to Vermeer's, and the elevation of his thought to Rembrandt's.Referenced Works of Art
- “Mercury,” detail of The Attributes of the Arts. Still-life painting by J. B. S. Chardin purchased through the Dunwoody Fund.
- J. B. S. Chardin: The Attributes of the Arts. Oil on canvas, 44 1/4 x 57 inches. Dunwoody Fund.