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.
Yep, something is not quite right in this still life.
Not completely still? Or, since Chardin would have called these natures mortes: not completely dead.
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.