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Work Self-portrait with Spectacles

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Autoportrait aux besicles

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Beck-Coppola

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Author(s):
Boyer Sarah

At the Salon of 1771, Chardin surprised everybody. People knew of his health problems, and some thought he had abandoned art, but his three-pastel drawing caused a sensation. Against a dark blue background, Chardin appears in three-quarters, his head bent, in a white cap and a brown robe. His brown eyes peer over his spectacles, and a scarf is tied around his neck. More active than in his Self-portrait with Eye Shade of 1775 (Louvre), he is captured looking away from his work.

Neither drawing nor painting

His eyes worn out from grinding pigments (the lead base mixed with the oil burns the eyes) and mixing binders, Chardin adopts a new medium and new subjects with his pastel portraits and self-portraits, while other contemporary pastelists - Carriera, La Tour, Perronneau, and Liotard - merely stuck to portraits. His pastels on paper are often backed onto canvas. Their qualities differ from those of La Tour: leaving the pastel marks intact, Chardin rejects La Tour's seductive smoothness. Coming to pastels late in life, Chardin was obliged to reinvent a pictorial method of drawing in color. His choice and position of shades, with salmon pink and blues vitalizing his head and jacket, demonstrate an uncommon freedom. The juxtaposition of broad, unblended areas and sharply defined accents give the subject a sculptural solidity. This audacious technique, whereby hatching and individual touches of various shades reflect the artist's hand, marks an end to the smooth and flawless manner favored by academic tradition.

Proust's Way

"Above his enormous pince-nez, that have slipped down to the end of his nose, which they grip with their two brand-new glass discs... way above them, lifeless eyes, with high, worn-out pupils that seem to have seen a lot, laughed a lot, loved a lot, and to say with a boastful, tender tone 'Well yes, I am old!'. Beneath the lifeless softness that age has lent them, the eyes are still aflame. But the eyelids, tired as an overused clasp, are red around the rim. Like the old coat that envelops his body, his skin has also hardened and faded. Like the fabric, it has kept, almost brightened, its pink tones, and here and there is covered with a sort of gilded mother-of-pearl. And the worn state of one is a constant reminder of the worn tones of the other . . . infinitely delicate, rich, soft tones. Looking at it, it is incredible to see how the creasing of the mouth is exactly controlled by the opening of the eye, as is the wrinkling of the nose. The slightest fold of skin, the slightest relief of a vein, is an extremely faithful and extremely curious transcription of three original corresponding elements: character, life, and present emotion."

An avalanche of colors

Intimate and psychological, Chardin's self-portraits are the most astonishing aspect of his art, for their silent quality and intellectual depth. Focused and self-assured, the artist sports a scarf of warm pinks, and reds softened by tranquil blues and grays. These tones spill over into the material of his jacket and are reflected in certain areas of the face. Unexpected patches of color, such as blue under pink, give the surface life and unity, and play off against the cautiously studied shadows to give this portrait its substance. The true beauty of the tones also diminishes some of the comic aspects of the portrait; the artist has represented himself and his art with truth, frankness, and unusual color associations.

Bibliography

J. Derrida, Mémoires d'aveugle : l'autoportrait et autres ruines, cat. exp. Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1990-1991 (notice 18, Y. Séverac).P. Rosenberg, Chardin, cat. exp. Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 7 septembre - 22 novembre 1999 ; Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum et Kunsthalle, 5 décembre 1999 - 20 février 2000 ; Londres, Royal Academy of Arts, 9 mars - 28 mai 2000 ; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 19 juin - 17 septembre 2000, pp. 324-325, n 96.En savoir plusCat. exp. Künstler im Spiegel einer Sammlung, Graphische Bildnisse von Malern, Bildhauern und Kupferstechern aus dem Porträtarchiv Diepenbroick, Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum fur Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, 8 juin-7 septembre 1997.C. Denk, Artiste, citoyen & philosophe : der Künstler und sein Bildnis im Zeitalter der französischen Aufklärung, Munich, W. Fink, 1998.G. Edizel, Jean-Simeon Chardin : seeing, playing, forgetting, and the practice of modern imitation, Ann Arbor (Mich.), UMI, 1998.Face à face : portraits d'artistes dans les collections publiques d'Ile-de-france, cat. exp. Mantes-la-Jolie, Musée de l'Hôtel-Dieu, 18 octobre 1998-31 janvier 1999.M. Roland Michel, Chardin, Paris, Hazan, 1999.E. Barker, N Webb, K. Woods, The Changing status of the artist, New Haven-Londres, Yale University press : Open University, 1999.D. Hess, Eitelkeit und Selbsterkenntnis : Selbstbildnisse des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts im Germanischen Nationalmuseum, cat. exp. Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 1999.Renard, Portraits et autoportraits d'artistes au XVIIIe siècle, Tournai, La Renaissance du livre, 2003.

Technical description

  • Jean-Siméon CHARDIN (Paris, 1699-1779)

    Self-portrait with Spectacles

    1771

  • Pastel

    H. 46 cm; W. 38 cm

  • Jean-Augustin de Sylvestre collection; François-Louis Gounod collection; Bruzard collection; purchased by the Louvre in 1839.

    3925206

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Signed and dated at bottom right: "chardin / 1771"