Still Life with a Rib of Beef, 1739
Signed and dated, right center: chardin / 1739
Oil on canvas
16 1/8 x 13 3/8 in. (41 x 34 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1945
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Modest in scale and muted in palette, Chardin's still lifes of kitchen utensils and foodstuffs presented a naturalistic alternative to the more decorative Rococo aesthetic that prevailed in the early to mid eighteenth century.
During the late 1720s and 1730s, Chardin painted a series of about thirty modest, small-scale still lifes of kitchen utensils and foodstuffs, in both horizontal and vertical formats. The compositions draw from a limited repertoire of everyday objects, and adduce no superfluous details or anecdotal references. They focus instead on the simple forms of the objects, the nature of their materials, and variable reflections of light. In the development of these works, Chardin's style gradually became more fluid and painterly, less minutely detailed than in his earlier still lifes.
Still Life with a Rib of Beef embodies perfectly the subtle, understated nature of these profoundly simple pictures. The muted, almost monochromatic palette is offset by the red flesh of the hanging meat and the white napkin draped over the table edge at left. Several of the objects represented in the painting--the copper cauldron and the earthenware jug, the long-handled skimmer--appear in other, similar compositions by the artist. 1
There are several versions known of Still Life with a Rib of Beef; indeed, many of Chardin's kitchen still lifes from the 1730s exist in multiple autograph versions (i.e., copies made by the artist himself). 2 Chardin was evidently a slow and painstaking craftsman, keen on achieving the precise harmonies of light and texture that distinguish his work. The artist's contemporaries observed that his paintings resulted from a long, evolutionary process of meditation, decision, and revision, and collectors often became impatient waiting for the completion of their paintings. Chardin's decision to repeat certain compositions--sometimes incorporating very minor adjustments or alterations--took advantage of the effort invested in attaining a successful formula, and also efficiently handled the growing demand for his works. 3
A version of the Oberlin composition in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, signed and dated 1730 and thus among Chardin's earliest dated still lifes of kitchen utensils, is generally accepted as the primary version of this work. 4 The Oberlin painting is regarded as an autograph replica of the Bordeaux painting, in which the somewhat hesitant brushwork and distracting highlights of the earlier version have been better resolved, and the overall execution is much neater and tighter. 5 The Bordeaux Still Life with a Rib of Beef was probably originally paired with the Still Life with Ray and Basket of Onions, dated 1731, now in The North Carolina Museum of Art. The latter painting exists in as many as nine versions; none, however, have been specifically linked to the painting at Oberlin.
M. E. Wieseman
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was born in Paris on 2 November 1699, son of the master cabinetmaker Jean Chardin. He was the pupil of the history painters Pierre-Jacques Cazes (1676-1754) and Noël-Nicolas Coypel (1690-1734). Chardin was accepted into the Académie de Saint-Luc as a painter of still lifes in 1724, and became a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture in 1728. He was elected a council member of the latter in 1743 and served as treasurer from 1755 to 1775. In 1733, Chardin began painting genre scenes in addition to still lifes. His charming small canvases, depicting modest scenes of one or two figures, and the humble, everyday objects of middle-class life, were in the tradition of the Dutch cabinet pictures of the preceding century that enjoyed such popularity among French collectors at this time. Characterized by a simplicity and directness of vision, and a complete avoidance of sentimentality and affectation, Chardin's work represents a naturalistic tendency in French eighteenth-century painting that existed alongside the more fashionable and flamboyant Rococo. His technical mastery achieved great depth of tone through the use of a loaded brush and a subtle use of scumbled color. Failing eyesight forced Chardin to turn to the medium of pastels towards the end of his life. He died in his apartment at the Louvre, in Paris, on 6 December 1779. Among Chardin's pupils was Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Wildenstein, Georges. Chardin. Zurich, 1963. Translated and completed by Daniel Wildenstein. Oxford, Glasgow, and Zurich, 1969.
Rosenberg, Pierre. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Chardin. Paris, 1983.
Conisbee, Philip. Chardin. Oxford, 1986.
Private collection, England
With Galerie Gimpel, Paris
Collection John W. Simpson, New York (purchased in 1905)
With M. Knoedler and Co., New York, from whom purchased in 1945
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1945. Exhibition of Still Life Paintings, 17th to 19th Centuries. March. Unnumbered cat.
New York, Arnold Seligman-Helft Galleries, 1947. French Still Life Paintings from Chardin to Cézanne. 22 October - 29 November. Cat. no. 15.
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries: Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 51.
Buffalo, N.Y., Albright Art Gallery, 1954. Painter's Painters. 16 April - 2 June. Cat. no. 14.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1954. French 18th Century Painters. 5 October - 2 November (also shown at Wildenstein Galleries, New York). Cat. no. 4.
Kansas City, Mo., Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, 1956. The Century of Mozart. 15 January - 4 March. Cat. no. 11.
Kenwood, London County Council, 1962. An American University Collection: Works of Art from the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio. 3 May - 30 October. Cat. no. 18.
Rochester, N.Y., Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 1964-65. In Focus--A Look at Realism in Art. 28 December - 31 January. Cat. no. 16.
Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, 1965. Chardin: his Paintings and his Engravers. 23 April - 17 May. Ex-catalogue.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1966. Treasures from the Allen Memorial Art Museum. 21 July - 11 September. No cat.
South Bend, Ind., University of Notre Dame Art Gallery, 1972. Eighteenth Century France--A Study of Its Art and Civilization. 12 March - 15 May. Cat. no. 19.
Tôkyô, The National Museum of Western Art, 1976. Masterpieces of World Art from American Museums. 11 September - 17 October (exhibition organized by the United States Museum Exchange Subcommittee of CULCON, the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan; also shown at the Kyôto National Museum). Cat. no. 37.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975-76. Extended loan for exhibition with permanent collection. 9 April 1975 - 22 December 1976. No cat.
Paris, Galeries Nationales d'Exposition du Grand Palais, 1979. Chardin 1699-1779. 29 January - 30 April (also shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Ex-catalogue. Not shown in Paris.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Notes on an Exhibition of Still Life Paintings from the 17th to the 19th Century." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 2, no. 1 (March 1945), p. 12.
Martin, Kurt. "Notes on a Still Life Painting by Chardin." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 9, no. 1 (Fall 1951), pp. 17-23.
Devree, Howard. In New York Times, 21 November 1954, Arts section, p. 8.
The Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum Bulletin 1, no. 1 (1956), p. 13, no. 11.
Martin, Kurt. "Bemerkungen zu zwei Kopien nach Stilleben von J. B. S. Chardin." In Festschrift Kurt Bauch. Munich, 1957, p. 243 n. 9.
Gimpel, René. Diary of an Art Dealer. New York, 1966, p. 300.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 32-33, fig. 82.
Rosenberg, Pierre. In Chardin 1699-1779. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales d'Exposition du Grand Palais, Paris, 1979, pp. 160-61, under no. 35.
Rosenberg, Pierre. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Chardin. Paris, 1983, p. 80, no. 52A.
Mittler, Gene A. Art in Focus. Peoria, Ill., 1986, pp. 272-73.
Conisbee, Philip. Chardin. Oxford, 1986, p. 91.
The canvas was lined and the original tacking margins removed prior to the painting's acquisition by the museum. In 1955 the canvas was relined onto a linen support using wax-resin adhesive, mounted on an ICA-type spring stretcher, and the back of the canvas was coated with an aluminum paint. The ground is moderately thick, and composed of two layers: the lower dark red and the upper light grey. The paint is applied as a thick paste, with thicker impasto touches in highlights and details, and little or no use of glazes. The painting is generally in good condition, with minor abrasions and retouching in the background area and the dark edge of the table in the foreground, and some flattening of the paint layer caused by relining.
1. Pierre Rosenberg, in Chardin 1699-1779 (exh. cat., Galeries Nationales d'Exposition du Grand Palais, Paris, 1979), esp. pp. 67-69. Comparable works include Still Life with a Leg of Lamb, 1730 (oil on canvas, 40 x 32.5 cm, Houston, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation); The Fast-day Meal and The Meat-day Meal, 1731 (both oil on copper, 33 x 41 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre, invs. 3204 and 3205); and Still Life with a Haunch of Meat, 1732 (oil on canvas, 42 x 34 cm, Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, inv. 236). See Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Chardin (Paris, 1983), nos. 51, 54, 55, and 61, respectively.
2. In addition to the painting at Bordeaux noted below, there is a signed but not dated version of the Oberlin painting in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, Calif. (oil on canvas, 40 x 31.5 cm), with the pendant of a Still Life with a Ray and Chicken; and an inferior version, signed "Jamin" and dated 1743, at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. (oil on canvas, 40.5 x 32.5 cm). Several other versions or copies are listed by Pierre Rosenberg in Chardin 1699-1779 (exh. cat., Galeries Nationales d'Exposition du Grand Palais, Paris, 1979), pp. 160-61, under no. 35. See also idem, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Chardin (Paris, 1983), pp. 79-80, under no. 52.
3. See Philip Conisbee, Chardin (Oxford, 1986), pp. 84-85.
4. Oil on canvas, 40.5 x 32.5 cm, Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts, no. 86; see Chardin 1699-1779 (exh. cat., Paris, Galeries Nationales d'Exposition du Grand Palais, 1979), pp. 160-61, no. 35.
5. 1731, oil on canvas, 40.6 x 32 cm, Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, inv. 63.29.1. See Pierre Rosenberg, in Chardin 1699-1779 (exh. cat, Grand Palais, Paris, 1979) pp. 161-63, no. 36; and Philip Conisbee, Chardin (Oxford, 1986), p. 91.