When Nick meets the truculent, self-styled “art student” Anne Stepney at Foppa’s, Anne surveys Foppa and his card-playing companion and remarks, “‘I always think people playing cards make such a good pattern.’
‘Rather like a Chardin,’ I suggested.
‘Do you think so?’ she replied, implying contradiction rather than agreement.
‘You know I am really only interested in Chardin’s highlights,’ she said.” [AW 158/150]
Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) was a Parisian painter of humble origins who rose to become one of the most reliably esteemed exhibitors at the Salons of the Academy des Beaux Arts. His work includes many scenes of bourgeois domestic life, notable for their rather stiff and hieratic figures, which contrast markedly with their relaxed pictorial forebears in 17th century Dutch domestic scenes. Nick’s comment to Anne Stepney suggests that card players were favored subjects of Chardin, but they are few and solitary in his work. Pictured here is Chardin’s painting of 1737 of a boy building a house of cards. There are other versions of his House of Cards theme at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire; in the Musée du Louvre, Paris; and at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. There is also a version thought to be by a copyist from Chardin’s studio in the Uffizi in Florence.
Actually, Chardin’s reputation is built on his still-life paintings, which also were also informed by his understanding of 17th century Dutch paintings, but unlike those inspirations are now widely considered the first truly modern still-lifes. This is in part because they renounce all symbolism of their Dutch inspirations, and seem simply to revel in the beauty of quotidian stuff, and to interrogate the miracle of seeing. Anne is being contrary when she professes interest only in Chardin’s highlights, but looking at the reproduction below of his 1728 still-life with a dead ray, one has to admit she has a point.