Quick Hit: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin has a very bad cat

Here’s something silly for a Friday afternoon: I was reading about still life painting (again!) and came across some compositions by French painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Chardin painted in various genres but produced many similar still life paintings, probably by commissions: his arrangements of game, fine tableware, and other domestic pleasures would have hung in the dining rooms of well-off 18th-century Parisians. The high level of realism and detail speak back to the 17th-century Dutch vanitas paintings I so love, but Chardin seems more focused on form and paint than symbolism and trompe l’oeil, prefiguring Cezanne’s endless apple compositions.

But something is a bit off about a few of them.

catlife1

Still Life with a Cat and a Fish, c. 1728

Yep, something is not quite right in this still life.

Still Life with Cat and Rayfish, c. 1728

Still Life with Cat and Rayfish, c. 1728

Not completely still? Or, since Chardin would have called these natures mortes: not completely dead.

Still Life with Cat and Fish, c. 1728

Still Life with Cat and Fish, c. 1728

Perhaps the cat is intended to create contrast: life with death, soft fur with slick scales, animal predation with bourgeois consumption. Perhaps the cat is a more blunt and vivid symbol of temptation or mortality in place of the classic vanitas skulls. I’m not certain. It’s obviously a very different meaning than when my cat gets on the kitchen table.

Still life with cat and edge of netbook, c. 2014

Still life with cat and edge of netbook, c. 2014

 

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2 responses to “Quick Hit: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin has a very bad cat

  1. Pingback: Quick Hit: Robespierre’s ode to tarts | Scenes of Eating·

  2. Pingback: Elsewhere on the Internet: Hints and Notes | Scenes of Eating·

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