Jean Siméon Chardin (1699–1779) was arguably the most talented French painter of the eighteenth century, best known for his original still lifes. Composed of simple, everyday objects, these works glow with warmth and magic, from the dull iron of the kitchen pans, to the glaze of the green earthenware jug or the shining copper of the cauldron. There is no superfluous detail or search for decorative effect; the beauty of his paintings lies in their minimalism. His contemporary, the philosopher Diderot, looking at The Olive Jar exclaimed: ‘All you have to do is take these biscuits and eat them … pick up the glass of wine and drink it … O Chardin! It’s not white, red or black pigment that you crush on your palette: it’s the very substance of the objects.’
Chardin received early recognition for his work, becoming an Associate of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture and full Academician in 1728 at the age of almost 29. Following the success of his early still lifes and inspired by Dutch seventeenth-century artists, whose work was very much in vogue in Paris at the time, Chardin went on to paint some exquisite genre scenes and portraits, remarkable for their realism and honesty as well as for their skilful technique. His works had a tremendous influence on subsequent artists, inspiring painters as diverse as Manet and Cézanne.