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Still Life with Fish, Vegetables, Gougères, Pots, and Cruets on a Table
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Jean-Siméon Chardin
French, 1769
Oil on Canvas
27 1/16 x 23 1/16 in.
2003.13

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Nobody has a greater understanding of the harmony of color and reflections. Ah, Chardin, what you grind on your palette is not this color or that, red, black, or white, but the very substance of things.

Jean-Siméon Chardin impressed critic Denis Diderot with his unique style and impeccable technique, which he applied to what was then considered a lowly genre, the still life. Exemplifying what Diderot noticed in his paintings, Chardin here transforms a simple kitchen scene with a subtle palette, innovative composition, and virtuoso brushwork.

The objects' arrangement is spare but dynamic: Two mackerels hang vertically in front of a plain background, perpendicular to an arrangement of food on the tabletop below. Brilliant light directs the eye, attracting attention to the shiny fish, leafy greens, root vegetables, a wheel of cheese, and covered bowls. Although the overall palette is subdued, the oil and vinegar cruets are infused with rich color. The signature and date in the lower right corner are the last Chardin is known to have applied to a still life.