The Scullery Maid (1738)
by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699–1779)
Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: H 45.7 x W 36.9 cm
At the time this was painted, images of everyday people were not very popular. However, the French artist Chardin was known for finding beauty in the commonplace, and his elevation of this humble domestic scene is no exception. The maid washes utensils in a drab interior dominated by a large wooden barrel that competes with an exquisitely rendered copper pot. Chardin shows off his artistic skill in bringing a multitude of textures to life.
How many different textures can you find? How does the artist convey different materials so convincingly? The maid's bent pose and scrubbing arm gesture suggests intense labour but is this an image of work, or, a break from it? Who is she thinking about, and what clues can we spot to suggest she is thinking about anyone? The discreet use of blue in an otherwise drab palette is interesting, isn't it?