Adapting the subjects of Dutch cabinet pictures and still lifes of the previous century to French taste, Chardin elevated these genres to the very highest level. His works are exceptional in their sentient depiction of everyday experience and observed reality. Few artists have ever equaled the subtlety of his vision or the sensitivity of his technique, with its richly textured impasto and muted coloration.
Although small in size, Young Student Drawing was one of Chardin’s most famous works. The fact that he returned to the composition repeatedly over a twenty-year period, painting no fewer than twelve versions, indicates the popularity of the subject and its importance to him. In it he seems to have been making a comment on the arduous process of artistic training followed by the French Academy. In Chardin’s view, quoted by Diderot in his Salon of 1765, the various stages of training were merely means toward an end—the release of the creative ability. At the beginning, however, the young artist was like the blank canvas at the right—a tabula rasa.
According to an old label on the back of the panel, this work was acquired in Paris in 1848 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous Franco-British engineer and bridge designer.
Adult: Young Student Drawing
The crispness of Chardin’s uniquely textured paint surface is beautifully preserved in Young Student Drawing. The artist used the consistency of his paint to evoke the textured surface of his subjects, and he added chalk to bulk up the paint. The artist was secretive about his working methods, and had no pupils or followers to observe and make notes on his technique. The rough, impastoed brushwork in this panel disguises the fact that it is painted over an earlier image. A horizontal composition of a seated woman in profile can just be made out in the x-radiograph. Chardin conceived of Young Student Drawing as one of a pair. Its companion piece, The Embroiderer, now in Stockholm, shows a seated woman in profile. No relationship, however, has yet been established between these two images of women. It is perhaps ironic that Chardin should depict a young draftsman since he himself worked directly from nature, foregoing the intermediate process of a preparatory drawing. Nonetheless, Chardin recalled how, as a young apprentice, he spent five or six years drawing from the model.
Purchased in Paris by Isambard Kingdom Brunel [1806-1859], London, England, 1848;
thence by family descent to his great-grandson, Humphrey Brunel Noble of Ardmore, 4th baronet [1892-1968], Scotland, and Northumberland, England;
by inheritance to his eldest son, Marc Brunel Noble of Ardmore, 5th baronet [1927-1991], England;
(sale, Christie’s, London, 23 April 1982, no. 96).
(Possibly David Carritt, Limited, London, with Artemis Group).
(Noortman & Brod, New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1982.