Details
JEAN-SIMÉON CHARDIN (PARIS 1699-1779)
La fontaine
signé 'Chardin' (en bas à gauche sur la barrique)
huile sur toile, agrandie d’une bande 10,5 cm dans la partie supérieure
50 x 43 cm (dimensions actuelles) ; 39,5 x 43 cm (dimensions originales)
The water urn
signed 'Chardin' (lower left, on the barrel)
oil on canvas, enlarged at top (4 in.)
19 3⁄4 x 17 in. (current size); 15 1⁄2 x 17 in. (original size)
Provenance
Probablement vente Jean-Denis Lempereur (1701-1779), Paris, 24 mai 1773, lot 96.
Probablement vente Jacques Augustin de Silvestre (1719-1809), Paris, 2 mars 1811, lot 12.
Vente Marie-Antoine Didot (?-1835), Paris, 28 décembre 1819, lot 23 (l'auteur du catalogue prétend, sans preuve, que ce tableau ainsi que La Serinette et Deux lapins avec une gibecière et une poire à poudre auraient appartenu à Madame Geoffrin).
Vente vicomte Emmanuel d'Harcourt (1774-1840), Paris, 31 janvier-2 février 1842, lot 15.
Collection François Marcille (1790-1856) depuis au moins 1848 (L. Clément de Ris, op. cit., p. 194) ; puis par descendance à son fils.
Collection Eudoxe Marcille (1814-1890) depuis 1856 jusque 1890 ; puis par descendance aux actuels propriétaires.
Literature
L. Clément de Ris, 'Troisième exposition de l'Association des artistes', L'Artiste. Revue de Paris, 30 janvier 1848, XI, p. 194.
E. Bocher, Les gravures françaises du XVIIIe siècle, ou Catalogue raisonné des estampes, Paris, 1856, p. 98.
W. Bürger (Thoré), 'Exposition de tableaux de l'école française, tirés de collections d'amateurs', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1860, VII, p. 334 et 338, VIII, p. 234.
S. Horsin-Déon, 'Le cabinet de M. le comte de Morney', Annuaire des Amateurs et des Artistes, 1862, II, p. 136-137.
J. de Goncourt, E. de Goncourt, 'Chardin', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, décembre 1863, XIV, p. 525.
T. Gautier, 'Les coloristes français : Chardin', L'Artiste, 15 février 1864, I, p. 75 (selon P. Rosenberg, Chardin 1699-1779, cat. exp., Paris, 1979, p. 200).
C. Blanc, Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles. Ecole française, Paris, 1865, II, p. 9, 15 et 16, gravé par Bocourt et Carbonneau d'après le tableau p. 9.
P. Mantz, 'Exposition en faveur de l'œuvre des Alsaciens-Lorrains', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1874, 2e période, X, p. 114, gravé par Bocourt et Carbonneau d'après le tableau p. 113.
E. de Goncourt, La maison d'un artiste, Paris, 1881, II, p. 120-121.
M. Hamel, 'Exposition de tableaux de maîtres anciens au profit des inondés du Midi', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, mars 1887, XXXV, p. 254-255.
H. de Chennevières, 'Chardin au musée du Louvre', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1889, 3e période, I, p. 127, gravé partiellement p. 125.
H. de Chennevières, 'Silhouettes de collectionneurs. M. Eudoxe Marcille', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1890, IV, p. 302.
E.F.S. Dilke, 'Chardin et ses œuvres à Postdam et à Stockholm', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1899, XXII, 3e période, p. 183 et 341.
E.F.S. Dilke, French painters of the XVIIIth Century, Londres, 1899, p. 115 et 124.
M. de Fourcaud, 'Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin', Revue de l'Art ancien et moderne, 1899, II, p. 388 (selon P. Rosenberg, Chardin 1699-1779, cat. exp., Paris, Grand Palais, 1979, p. 200).
M. de Fourcaud, J.-B. S. Chardin, Paris, 1900, p. 24, reproduit.
L.O. Merson, La peinture française au XVIIe siècle et au XVIIIe, Paris, 1900, 2e édition, p. 306 (selon P. Rosenberg, Chardin 1699-1779, cat. exp., Paris, 1979, p. 200).
C. Normand, J.-B. Siméon Chardin, coll. Les Artistes célèbres, Paris, 1901, p. 42 (selon P. Rosenberg, Chardin 1699-1779, cat. exp., Paris, 1979, p. 200).
G. Schéfer, Chardin, coll. Les Grands Artistes, 1904, p. 25, reproduit en noir et blanc.
A. Dayot, L. Vaillat, L'œuvre de J.B.S. Chardin et J.H. Fragonard, Paris, 1907, p. VII, cité sous n°32.
J. Guiffrey, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de J.-B. Siméon Chardin, Paris, 1908, p. 78, n°133.
J. de Goncourt, E. de Goncourt, L'art du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1909 (3e édition), I, p. 179.
E. Pilon, Chardin, coll. Les Maîtres de l'Art, Paris, 1909, p. 88, reproduit p. 89.
H. Furst, Chardin, Londres, 1911, p. 70-72 et 125, reproduit pl. XXV.
P. Lespinasse, 'L'Art français et la Suède de 1688 à 1816', Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de l'Art français, 1911, p. 316.
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Liljevalchs, Fransk Konst i svensk privat ägo, 1926, n°781, pl. 184, reproduit.
G. Wildenstein, Chardin, coll. L'art français, Paris, 1933, n°27, reproduit fig. 7.
G. Grappe, 'La réhabilitation du sujet', L'Art Vivant, décembre 1934, n°191, p. 479, reproduit.
P. Ratouis de Limay, 'Trois collectionneurs du XIXe siècle', Le Dessin, mai 1938, n°1, p. 305, reproduit, p. 312.
H. Furst, 'Chardin yesterday and today', The Connoisseur, juillet 1940, p. 18, reproduit.
M. Davies, National Gallery catalogues. French school, Londres, 1946 (édition revue par M. Davies, Londres, 1957), p. 15.
G. Wildenstein, 'De l'utilisation des sources dans la rédaction des catalogues d'exposition', Chronique des Arts (supplément à la Gazette des Beaux-Arts), mai-juin 1960, n°1096-1097, p. 2.
Y.K. Zolotov, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (en russe), Moscou, 1962, reproduit pl. 2.
G. Wildenstein, Chardin, Zurich, 1963 (édition anglaise revue et complétée par D. Wildenstein, Oxford, Glasgow, Zurich, 1969), p. 168, n°129, reproduit fig. 54.
P. Rosenberg, L'opera completa di Chardin, Milan, 1983, n°80A, reproduit.
P. Grate, French Paintings II Eighteenth Century, Stockholm, 1994, p. 83, sous le n°102.
P. Rosenberg, R. Temperini, Chardin, Paris, 1999, p. 224, n° 81A, reproduit sans l'agrandissement Didot.
P. Rosenberg et al., Chardin, cat. exp., Paris, Düsseldorf, Londres, New York, 1999-2000, p. 192, cité sous le n°34.
D. Rykner, 'Une paire de pendants inédits de Chardin acquis par le Toledo Museum of Art', La Tribune de l'Art, 20 janvier 2006, note 3.
H. Wine, National Gallery Catalogues: The Eighteenth Century French Paintings, Londres, 2018, p. 86, sous le n°NG1664.
Exhibited
Probablement Paris, Salon de 1773, n°36 (y est précisé que 'Ce Tableau appartient à M. Sylvestre, Maître à dessiner des Enfants de France. C'est la répétition d'un Tableau appartenant à la Reine Douairière de Suède') (selon une inscription au revers du tableau).
Paris, Salon de Paris, galerie Martinet, Tableaux et dessins de l'école française, principalement du XVIIIe siècle, tirés de collections d'amateurs (catalogue avec deux suppléments), 1860, 2e édition, n°101.
Paris, Palais Bourbon, Objets d'art exposés dans le palais de la Présidence du corps législatif au profit des Alsaciens-Lorrains en Algérie (catalogue avec un supplément), 1874, n°59.
Paris, musée des Arts décoratifs, Tableaux anciens et modernes exposés au profit du musée des Arts décoratifs, 1878, n°30.
Paris, galerie Georges Petit, L'Art du XVIIIe siècle, décembre 1883-janvier 1884, n°23
Paris, musée des Arts décoratifs, Exposition de tableaux de maîtres anciens au profit des inondés du Midi, 1887, n°19.
Paris, André J. Seligmann, Réhabilitation du sujet, 17 novembre-9 décembre 1934, n°17, reproduit.
Bruxelles, Exposition universelle et internationale, Cinq siècles d'art, V, 24 mai-13 octobre 1935, n°918.
Paris, galerie Heim, Hommage à Chardin. Au profit de la Société des Amis du Louvre, 5 juin-10 juillet 1959, n°8.
Paris, musée Jacquemart-André, Chefs-d’œuvre des collections particulières, 1961, n°7.
Paris, Grand Palais, Chardin 1699-1779, 29 janvier-30 avril 1979, n°57, cité sous le n°55, reproduit sans l'agrandissement Didot.
Post lot text

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Lot Essay

‘La Fontaine’ (‘The Water Urn’) is one of the signal masterpieces of Chardin’s long and distinguished career. Acquired before 1848 by François-Martial Marcille (1790-1856), the greatest and most prolific collector of Chardin’s paintings, the picture has remained with Marcille’s descendants to this day. Still in a nearly perfect state of preservation, this painting’s fame in France in the second half of the 19th century was instrumental in the rehabilitation of Chardin’s reputation, some years before the splendid ensemble of paintings by the artist in the La Caze collection entered the Louvre in 1869 and made his art widely available to the general public.

‘The Water Urn’ is among the first – indeed, perhaps the very first – of Chardin’s celebrated paintings of everyday life. Born in Paris in November 1699 to a master cabinetmaker who specialized in billiard tables, Jean-Siméon Chardin studied with the history painters Pierre-Jacques Cazes (1676-1754) and Noël-Nicolas Coypel (1690-1734). He aspired to become a history painter himself and was received as a master painter in 1724 in the Académie de Saint-Luc, the venerable Paris guild that was the principal, if less revered, rival of the Académie Royale. His earliest known works, likely dating from this moment, were ambitious if somewhat clumsy multi-figural genre scenes that functioned as signboards – one for a doctor’s surgery (lost): another, The Game of Billiards (Musée Carnavalet, Paris), which may have served to advertise his own father’s business. Insufficiently trained and awkward in his mastery of figure drawing, Chardin saw little chance of success as a history painter and turned instead to still life, quickly making a name for himself with his depictions of dead game – hares, rabbits, ducks and pheasants – and small, spare kitchen scenes with a glass of wine, a bottle, or a silver goblet, and fruit he favored. A rare opportunity to display his paintings to the public offered itself with the Exposition de la Jeunesse held at the Place Dauphine, an annual open-air exhibition to which he contributed a dozen paintings in 1728. Among these was The Ray-Fish (1728; Louvre), which attracted wide and favorable attention. Fewer than four months later, and certainly owing to his success at the Exposition, Chardin was approved and received on the same day (25 September 1728) into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, submitting his Ray-Fish and The Buffet (1728; Louvre) as reception pieces. Despite his lack of academic training, Chardin entered the Académie as a painter ‘skilled in animals and fruit’ and flourished in this category, with little expansion of his repertory for the next five years.

Having established himself as one of the leading still-life painters in France by the early 1730s, Chardin seems to have taken stock of his position and concluded that extending the range of his subject matter might also enlarge the market for his work. Early ambitions now bolstered by a decade of practical experience, Chardin again took up figure painting around 1733, encouraged by friends such as the portrait painter Jacques-André-Joseph Aved (1702-1766), who had chided Chardin that painting the human figure was considerably more challenging than “painting cakes and sausages”. Chardin’s devoted friend, the draftsman and printmaker Charles-Nicolas Cochin (1715-1790), recounted Aved’s friendly rebuke, adding that Chardin was “offended by this, but controlled himself and gave no sign of his feelings. The next day, however, he began a figural painting of a maidservant drawing water from a water urn” (P. Rosenberg, Chardin 1699-1779, cat. exh., Paris, Grand Palais, 1979, p. 199).

At the 1734 Exposition de la Jeunesse, Chardin exhibited sixteen paintings described as “subjects in the taste of Teniers,” an acknowledgement of the influence of the 17th-century Flemish master of genre scenes, David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690), whose small rustic interiors inspired the young French painter. In June 1735, Chardin exhibited “four excellent small paintings” including “little women occupied in their household chores and a young boy amusing himself with cards.” The Mercure de France noted that Chardin’s “sophisticated touch and the great truthfulness everywhere in his art, which is of uncommon intelligence, are widely praised” (P. Rosenberg, 1979, op. cit., p. 199). In the Paris Salon of 1737, the first held since 1725, the artist submitted eight paintings, including the first version of ‘The Water Urn’. That painting is clearly described in the Salon livret (“… une Fille tirant de l’eau à une Fontaine”), and was exhibited with its pendant, ‘The Washerwoman’ (‘une petite Femme s’occupant à savonner’). Two years later, publication of Cochin’s engravings after ‘La Fontaine’ (‘The Water Urn’) and ‘La Blanchisseuse’ (‘The Washerwoman’) were announced in the June 1739 edition of the Mercure de France, described as in the taste of Teniers, seen at the last Salon and engraved after the originals in Mr. Le Chevalier de la Roque’s cabinet.

This first version of ‘The Water Urn’ and its companion, ‘The Washerwoman’ are today in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Both paintings are signed and ‘The Water Urn’ is also dated; the last digit is slightly obscured but the date is generally understood to be ‘1733’. Their original owner – ‘Mr. Le Chevalier de la Roque’ – was Antoine de La Roque (1682-1744), a military hero, publisher of the Mercure de France, and friend of Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), who painted his portrait (Tokyo Fuji Art Museum). La Roque was also an eminent art collector, whose cabinet was notable for its 17th-century Dutch and Flemish genre scenes, and it is likely that he commissioned the paintings from Chardin with the idea that they would hang harmoniously with his Northern pictures. Curiously, the Stockholm ‘Water Urn’ is executed on panel, while its pendant is on canvas, suggesting that La Roque might have commissioned ‘The Water Urn’ first and, pleased with the result, ordered a companion piece from Chardin after the fact. It would have been La Roque who lent the pair to the exhibitions of 1734 and 1735, and to the Salon of 1737. Following La Roque’s death in 1744, the paintings were purchased at his posthumous sale in 1745 by the dealer Edmé-François Gersaint (1694-1750) on behalf of Crown Prince Adolph Frederick (later king) of Sweden (1710-1771). They have remained in Sweden ever since, transferred from the royal collection in 1865 to the newly founded Nationalmuseum.

‘The Water Urn’ from the Marcille collection presents this much-reproduced painting at its most complete. Notably, the small glazed earthenware plate found in the lower right-hand corner on the tiling anchors the composition and establishes a harmony not found in other versions of this work. It is possible that Chardin painted the Marcille version of ‘The Water Urn’ before the version La Roque had even left his studio. Unfortunately, no certain chronology can be established. Set in a dark, cavernous room; the scene depicts a servant at her early-morning tasks, similar to those undertaken in grand Parisian households of the era, as described by Audiger (La maison reglée, et l’art de diriger la maison, 1692). In grand Parisian residences, kitchens and stables were located at the far ends of the building’s wings, at a distance from the public rooms, and opened onto a hidden courtyard or directly onto a back street, where they would be unseen by visitors to the house (C. B. Bailey et al., Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden: The Collections of Count Tessin, cat. exh., New York, The Morgan Library & Museum, 2017, p. 55). Chardin’s young kitchen maid bends over to fill an earthenware jug with water from a large copper cistern, similar to the one painted in ‘The copper water urn’ (Louvre). A wooden bucket is placed under the tap to catch any runoff. A long-handled saucepan, copper pot lined in tin, piles of firewood and a great wooden barrel – upon which Chardin appended his signature – are casually arranged in an exquisite still life to the left of the water urn and maid; from the ceiling above her hangs a great red loin of curing meat. Through a partially opened door at the right rear of the room we can glimpse into a light-filled chamber beyond, in which another, older maid sweeps the floor, accompanied by a small child.

Chardin chose to focus attention on the figures’ activities rather than their individual personalities. This decision emphasizes in an especially poignant manner the quiet dignity of the women and their absorption in their labors, to the extent that they appear completely isolated from the outside world. Through his masterful technique, Chardin transforms a simple, everyday scene into a timeless and sublime image. He also represents, to great effect, many of the kitchen implements that he had lovingly rendered in his still life paintings throughout the 1720s and early 1730s. The copper cistern is the centerpiece of one of his most beautiful and famous pictures in the Louvre, probably executed around the same date as the present painting. The brazier, bucket and copper pot are also among the objects familiar from his still-life paintings of this period, and are recorded among the common household items listed in the inventories of the artist’s estate.

Both the La Roque and Marcille versions of ‘The Water Urn’ have a nearly identical palette, composed of warm, muted hues of ocher, sapphire blue, rust and deep chocolate brown, crimson, scarlet and salmon, punctuated at rhythmic intervals by the dense, chalky whites of the servants’ clothing and linens. The beautifully preserved surface of the Marcille ‘Water Urn’ permits us to appreciate, to a degree we otherwise only rarely can, Chardin’s unique and affecting handling of paint. His contemporaries found his idiosyncratic technique startling but impressive. An expert in his medium, Chardin invented and mastered his own techniques. Ewa Lajer-Burcharth noted that Chardin developed a distinctive, artisanal method of painting that included grinding his own pigments and adding chalk to his zinc whites (Diderot (1713-1784) slyly remarked that no one he knew had ever seen Chardin paint). Lajer-Burcharth observes that “you can almost hear the dry brush scraping the surface of the canvas, like a maid’s hand scouring a pot” (E. Lajer-Burcharth, Chardin Material, Frankfurt am Main, 2011, p. 31).

Almost all commentaries written about ‘The Water Urn’ by Chardin’s contemporaries characterize the painting as in the ‘goût flamand,’ ‘goût hollandais’ or ‘in the manner of Teniers’, noting its debt to Dutch and Flemish paintings of the previous century. Cabinet pictures by the Dutch and Flemish ‘petits maîtres’ were enthusiastically acquired by prominent Parisian collectors throughout the 18th century, and Antoine de la Roque himself had highly finished genre scenes by Teniers, Ostade, van Mieris and Dou in his collection of over two hundred paintings, as well as a small pair of coppers by Willem Kalf. Such pictures, which often depicted servants working or resting in rustic kitchens, had certainly inspired Chardin, as they had Watteau and Lancret (1690-1743) before him. In size, theme and subject matter, ‘The Water Urn’ owes an obvious debt to 17th-century Northern prototypes, but it entirely eschews the finely wrought, enamel-like finish and heightened attention to detail that were a principal appeal of paintings by the Dutch ‘fijnschilder’ (literally, ‘fine painters’) for the French collectors who owned them. As Philip Conisbee observed, Chardin’s granular and rugged painting technique, his deep mastery of chiaroscuro, and the meditative mood of psychological interiority with which the artist invested such a picture is more akin to the art of Rembrandt than that of Kalf or Teniers. Putting aside the obvious differences between Chardin’s little kitchen interiors and the grand historic and biblical subjects that Rembrandt preferred, Chardin’s way with light and shade, his ability to create an ambient sense of unity through color and tone, and his appreciation of rich impasto and the sheer substance of paint display a strong spiritual kinship to the works of the great Dutch master. In fact, the association did not go unnoticed in the 18th century. In his copy of the catalogue from the 1737 Salon, Pierre-Jean Mariette (1694-1774) described the La Roque version of ‘The Water Urn’ as a very pretty picture, with a distinct touch and originality similar to that of Rembrandt. Another critic writing on the salon called Chardin the “Rembrandt of the French School” (P. Conisbee, Chardin, Oxford, 1985, p. 117-119), and Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), with his instinctive appreciation for painting, wrote to his brother, Theo, in 1885, “Chardin is as good as Rembrandt” (Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Théo van Gogh, Nuenen, 8-12 November 1885). A certain kinship also exists between Chardin and Vermeer, whose work demonstrates a similar talent for capturing the energy and emotion of a fleeting moment.

Universally accepted as autograph, the Marcille ‘Water Urn’ is painted with remarkable vigor and finesse. It was enlarged at the top with an addition of 10,5 cm. when it was in the collection of Marie-Antoine Didot in order to transform it into a companion piece to another Chardin also belonging to Didot, a version of La serinette (which measures 50 x 43,5 cm; Louvre) (P. Rosenberg, 1979, op. cit., p. 200).

In addition to the Stockholm painting made for La Roque, a third autograph version of the composition, lent to the Salon of 1773 from the collection of Jacques Augustin de Silvestre (1719-1809) is today in the National Gallery, London. The status of the London painting has occasionally been questioned, but the picture’s somewhat wan appearance is more likely the result of an early relining and deterioration of the painted surface than to any sustainable doubts as to its authorship. A version of the composition and its pendant, ‘The Washerwoman’, in the Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA, have generally been rejected as early copies. While they are, admittedly, difficult to assess under the conditions in which they are exhibited, their quality is high and they deserve a more considered examination. Another pairing of the composition and its pendant, in vertical format, reappeared on the French art market in 2006 and was acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art. In a superb state of preservation and executed on intact, unlined canvases, the paintings’ attribution to Chardin was enthusiastically endorsed by Philip Conisbee (P. Conisbee, ‘Two newly discovered Chardins for Toledo’, The Burlington Magazine, May 2006, n°1238, CXLVIII, p. 325-327), but questioned by Pierre Rosenberg (after H. Wine, National Gallery Catalogues: The Eighteenth Century French Paintings, London, 2018, p. 86, under n°NG1664). To the present author, their handling and facture are entirely consistent with the hand of the master; if they are, nonetheless, slightly disappointing it may be the result of waning enthusiasm on the part of the artist who found himself repeating once again a pairing of compositions that he had already replicated several times.

Chardin was often cited by contemporaries as working very slowly and methodically. When he eventually arrived at a final composition that satisfied him – particularly in the case of his genre scenes – he was happy to repeat it for patrons eager to acquire his work. For example, a second version of ‘The Washerwoman’ was acquired by Catherine the Great (1729-1796) in 1772 (Hermitage, Saint Petersburg), and a third, formerly in the Rothschild collection, was destroyed in World War II. Chardin’s tiny Embroiderer is known in four versions, two of which perished in the war, and its pendant, The Young Draftsman, is known in six versions, three of which survive. Likewise, Chardin’s various depictions of ‘Les Bouteilles de savon’ (The Boy Blowing Bubbles), and ‘Le château de cartes’ (The House of Cards), are known in multiple versions, and ‘La maîtresse de l’école’ (The Schoolmistress), ‘La fillette au volant’ (Girl with a Shuttlecock), ‘L’écureuse’ (The Scullery Maid), ‘Le garçon cabaretier’ (The Young Tavern-Keeper), ‘La ratisseuse’ (The Woman Scraping Vegetables), ‘La pourvoyeuse’ (The Return from the Market), ‘Le bénédicité’ (Saying Grace), and ‘La serinette’ (The Bird-song Organ) all survive in two or more autograph versions, often with additional recorded replicas that are now lost.

With La Roque’s version of ‘The Water Urn’ in Stockholm since 1745, it was the Marcille painting that helped to bring Chardin renewed fame and acclaim in France in the mid-19th century, establishing his reputation as the French painter par excellence that has endured ever since. The Goncourt brothers saw ‘The Water Urn’ in the Marcille home. In their monograph on Chardin (1863/64), revised and republished in L’Art du Dix-Huitième Siècle (1875), the brothers evoke in characteristically poetic and tactile prose the experience of standing before the present painting: “… [Chardin’s] entire talent, firm, untrammeled, at ease in smaller dimensions, in full possession of the picture space, the figures and the technique, is manifest in ‘La Fontaine’… it is manifest in every corner of this brilliant little canvas – in the whites, broken and limpid, of the cap and jacket worn by the woman bending down to turn the tap, in the warmth of that glimpse of a profile full of color and health, the sun-lit source, as it were, of the liquid tints of her skin, in the variegation of the petticoat, in that brushwork that expresses so well the texture of the coarse cloth and the down of wool. We should be careful not to forget the special quality that Chardin henceforward, by his treatment of accessories and furnishings, gave to all his subjects ... Everything at his touch, under the influence of his gnarled, vigorous drawing assumes a mysterious solidity, a kind of dilated amplitude … [By] a kind of sleekness of contour, a breadth of line, a robust, large-as-life density, the inanimate objects in his figure compositions achieve a peculiar grandeur of style” (J. de Goncourt, E. de Goncourt, 1909, op. cit., p. 113).

Following the death of François-Martial Marcille, the painting passed by descent to his son, Eudoxe Marcille (1814-1890), who lent it generously to exhibitions throughout the second half of the 19th century. It was one of forty-one paintings by Chardin exhibited at the Galerie Martinet in the first comprehensive exhibition of 18th-century French art ever undertaken. Organized by Philippe Burty (1830-1890), the exhibition marked a turning point in the so-called ‘Rococo Revival,’ and proved a seminal event that introduced the art of the Ancien Régime to an audience which, by and large, had never before seen it. In an article from 1864 devoted to Chardin’s use of color, the poet and art critic Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) reminded readers of one the revelations of ‘The Water Urn’ for Chardin’s contemporaries: its focus on quotidian, domestic life. “One sees in it what no one else has mentioned,” he wrote. “Bourgeois family life in the 18th century, with no dukes, marchionesses, and ballerinas, as one might expect.” In a review of an exhibition in 1874, Paul Mantz contributed to the increasing rehabilitation of Chardin’s reputation, writing that “we never tire of studying the excellent examples [of Chardin’s work] that Eudoxe Marcille and Burty have lent to this exhibition…. We think ‘The Water Urn’ from the Marcille collection…is a masterpiece in every respect. It is at once the work of an assured draftsman and of a sensitive but robust colorist. Chardin is definitely not enough appreciated yet. But to think that fifty years ago, in the sad period that produced Endymions and Bélisaires, his exquisite works hardly fetched two louis! Oh Style, what crimes have been committed in your name!” (T. Gautier, 1864, op. cit., p. 75).

The painting largely disappeared from public view for most of the 20th century until it was lent to Pierre Rosenberg’s definitive retrospective of Chardin’s work, held on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the artist’s death. Held in Paris, Cleveland and Boston in 1979, the exhibition introduced ‘The Water Urn’ to a new audience of enthusiasts. Following that event, it returned to the care of the family that has owned it since the middle of the 19th century. Christie’s is honored to be able to share this rarely seen masterpiece by one of the French School’s greatest artists with new generations of admirers.

We would like to thank Alan Wintermute, art historian, for writing the above catalogue text.

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