Monday 17 September 2012

A Very Good Picture

Strolling about among the Dutch paintings in the National Gallery yesterday, I came across this one - which is not Dutch at all, but is, it seems to me, an absolute gem of a picture, It's by Chardin and titled La Fontaine (The Water Cistern).
The Dutch influence is apparent enough. It's a quiet domestic interior, a simple scene in which a routine task is under way. As with the great Dutch painters, the real 'subject' is the fall of light across domestic space and surfaces. The picture captures an ordinary moment in time and imbues it with a quality of profound stillness and mystery. It's one of those paintings that invites the eye to linger and roam, checking out foreground and background, dark and light, the way the various materials - copper, wood, stone, textiles, skin - respond to the fall of light. So far, so Dutch - but what sets La Fontaine apart is the wonderfully assured loose brushwork in Chardin's painting of the maidservant's cap and blouse. Sadly it doesn't really show up in reproduction, but it makes the whole picture sing - and marks it as something very special, and distinct from its Dutch companions.
Next time you find yourself in the National Gallery, seek it out - it's in Room 27.

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