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June 27 - September 3, 2000
Special Exhibitions Galleries, second floor

     In celebration of the 300th anniversary of tile birth of the 1 8th-century French artist Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779), The Metropolitan Museum of Art is presenting a major loan exhibition of 66 works that surveys the artist's distinguished career as a still life and genre painter. On view from June 27 through September 3, 2000, Chardin is the first exhibition in New York devoted to the artist and the first in the United States in more than 20 years. 

     In contrast to the rococo extravagance of the paintings of his contemporaries, Chardin achieved extraordinary success as a painter of still lifes and interior scenes - then regarded as the least important of artistic genres. His work is characterized by quiet simplicity and pictorial harmony. The critic Denis Diderot wrote in 1763 that a still life by Chardin "is nature itself; the objects free themselves from the canvas and are deceptively true to life." Chardin has continued to be greatly admired, inspiring many 1 9th-centtlry artists, including Manet and Cézanne.   

     The exhibition is made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation.

     The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, the Kunstmuseum and Kunsthalle, Düssenldorf, and the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

     An indemnity has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

     Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented on the exhibition: ''During his life time, Chardin was recognized as one of the great painters of his day and, rightfully, appreciation for his work has never waned. The Metropolitan is delighted to present the paintings of this exceptional artist to our Visitors, who may not be aware of the magnitude of his accomplishments. Throght Chardin's eyes, seemingly banal objects and scenes - a copper pot, a washerwoman, a mother, admonishing a child, a basket of wild strawberries  - are infused with an uncommon degree of emotional intensity in compositions of exquisite balance and beauty. Rejecting the styles and subjects of his contemporaries, such as Boucher and Fragonard, Chardin elevated the still life to a noble art form and achieved a place for himself a quiet
revolutionary in the pantheon of all history."

     Jean-Simion Chardin was received into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de sculpture in 1728, at the age of 28, as a "skilled painter of animals and fruit." The quality of Chardin's amaturalism, which followed in the 17th-century Dutch tradition, was exceptional and his success as a still-life painter was immediate.

     The exhibition surveys all aspects of Chardin's career and includes many of the artist's best known picture, such as his early Académie piece, The Ray (l725-6, Musée du Louvre, Pads), which depicts with Startling immediacy a guttered ray-fish preyed upon by a bristling cat. Among early still lifes of exceptional quality are Partridge, Bowl of Plums, and Basket of Pears (ca. 1728, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe), and Hare with Game Bag and Powder Flask (ca. 1730, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Chardin soon turned his attention to kitchen utensils and other household objects, often working on a much smaller scale, as in The Copper Cistern (ca. 1735, Musée du Louvre, Paris).

     In the 1730s, he painted half-lengths, usually representing children, and explored genre subjects that portray 18th-century bourgeois life. In these paintings, Chardin ennobles domestic tasks - capturing the quiet meditation of a kitchen maid, the simple act of making a cup of tea, or the innocent play of a child. The industrious subject of The Washerwoman (1733, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm) conveys moral propriety while the depiction of a soap bubble alludes to the transience of human life. Among the genre paintings, additional highlights of the exhibition are the Metropolitan,s own celebrated canvas, Soap Bubbles, (ca. 1734), Girl with a Shuttlecock (1737, private collection), and The Governess (1739, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). These pictures are remarkable for the studied harmony of their pictorial structure. The exhibition closes with a selection of late still lifes in which Chardin finds balance in the seemingly haphazard arrangement of objects. Vase of Flowers (ca. 1755 National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), Basket of Wild Strawberries (1761 , private collection) and Three Apples, Two Chestnuts, Bowl, and Silver Goblet (ca. 1768, Musée du Louvre, Paris) are works of consummate simplicity. Chardin captures the bloom of flowers and the ripeness of fruit, reflections on a silver surface, and the reflections of light through water.

     For the 18th-century Académie, history painting was most esteemed, followed by portraiture, landscape, genre, and still life. Nevertheless, throughout Chardin's career, his still life and genre paintings were well received in the annual Salons of the Académie and widely praised by artists and critics alike. An active member of the Académie, he was elected treasurer in 1755 and charged with the hanging of the annul Salon exhibitions. 

     Chardin first received an annual royal pension in 1752 and five years later, Louis XV granted the artist living quarters in the Louvre, where he lived the rest of his life. His reputation grew internationally and it is a testament to his success that his works were sought by many of the most eminent collectors of the day,  including not only the French king, but also Catherine the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia.

     The works in tile exhibition were selected by Pierre Rosenberg, a preeminent Chardin scholar and Director of the Musée du Louvre. At the Metropolitan, the exhibition was coordinated by Katharine Baetjer, Curator, Department of European Paintings. Exhibition design is by Michael Langley, Exhibition Designer, with graphics by Jill Hammarberg, Graphic Designer, and lighting by Zack Zanolli, Lighting Designer, all of the Museum's Design Department.

     Chardin is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue co-published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, with essays by Pierre Rosenberg and other noted scholars of 18th-century French painting. Catalogue entries far the paintings have been written by Mr. Rosenberg and the publication also includes a chronology and bibliography on the artist. The catalogue is available in the Museum Shop in both hardcover ($45) and paperback ($29.95). The hardcover edition is distributed by Yale University Press.

     Prior to the Metropolitan's presentation, Chardin was on view at the Grand Palais, Paris, the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, and the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

     Among the educational events presented by the Metropolitan in conjunction with the exhibition is a special lecture on Friday, June 30, at 6:00 p.m. by Edgar Munhall of The Frick Collection. The Museum also offers regularly scheduled gallery talks throughout the run of the exhibition and a series of documentary films on selected dates. In addition, the Museum's Web site (  features the exhibition.

     A special audio tour, part of the Metropolitan's new Key to the Met Audio Guide, is available for rental at the entrance to the exhibition ($5, $4.50 for members).

     The Key to the Met Audio Guide program is sponsored by Bloomberg News.