Behind the Paint – The Governess by Chardin


Sellf portrait Chardin


When we look at paintings from the past we look at the subject of the painting – any meaningful clues or messages it may contain.  We also look at the technique of the artist, and also perhaps the symbolism or language of the painting.  Historically, this was easily understood by the artist and his audience.  Space and light are other considerations as the artist endeavours to convey that feeling of space onto a flat surface.  This requires skill on the artist’s behalf.

Style is reflected in each historical period, and this is executed  by each famous artist of the past in the arts.  Whilst it is helpful to have knowledge of the history and the symbolism of the painting and the time it was painted, everyone shall have their own personal interpretation.  A paintings success shall much depend on whether the painting  connects with the viewer.

Chardin, La Gouvernante (Governess) 1738


A member of the Academy in 1728, Parisian born Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) gained a fine reputation as an artist and by the time of the Salon of 1740, his fame was secured when two works entered by him, were bought by the french monarchy.  Chardin had a perfect sense of colour which always harmonises with his subject (realistic still life).  The artist lived a long and varied life, dying at aged 80 years.  A detailed biography can be found here.

In Chardin’s painting ‘The Governess’, the little boy stands by a half-opened door (to his future), he looks hesitant.  He has two books tucked under his arm and is leaving his governess behind because the time has come for him to go off to school.

The House of Cards circa 1737 another painting where Chardin uses cards


He is leaving his childhood toys behind.  The cards on the floor have been carefully arranged by the artist.  The King of hearts represent love and the Ace of spades – death.  There is a sense of fate which is also symbolised by the open door.  the governess brushes the child’s tricorn hat before sending the boy on his journey into the world.  the open workbasket indicates industry and the red of the upright chair back suggests firmness.

Self portrait from here Lots of Chardin images here The Governess image from here

Don’t forget to tune into the Arts Web Show  Just Click the Echostains Blog Spotlight to read my interview with the Aspects

Plus……… over on Book stains….

12 Responses to “Behind the Paint – The Governess by Chardin”

  1. I have always admired Chardin’s self portrait. It seems I’ve also viewed a portrait he painted of his wife that was equally beautiful. I think what I have liked about his color is that it always seems to have an underlying warmth to the tones.

  2. Thank you for making me look anew.

  3. Thanks for visiting!

  4. artistatexit0 Says:

    Chardin had the advantage of living in a culture where people mostly understood what the symbols were and meant. Looking at our own time, it seems people are becoming more literal and less prone to allusion which was the artist’s stock in trade.

    • I couldn’t agree more with what you say Al, we don’t need clues with our literal paintings or photographs, a lot don’t have historical or allegorial reference. i don’tknow if this applies with conceptual art though…

  5. Wow, i really like these painting.
    Very emotive in a way

  6. john schultz Says:

    This painting pulls at the pathos and ethos of life. Should we be governed by are hearts and emotions(sensibility), or by our heads(sense)? Do we send him to school, or have him stay home and be a child alittle longer?
    This painting is timeless. All parents will go through this situation. When they send their child to Kindengarden for the first time… middle school… to get married.
    This painting is very emotional. It is my favorite.

    • You are right John – the painting is timeless! Heart or head? Letting go or holding on for just that bit longer….. The governess could easily be a mother sending her son away to school for the first time. I love all the little symbols in this painting – the childhood toys he is leaving behind as he goes out into the world in preperation of being a man. I must put some more Chardin on here!
      Thanks for your valid comment and for visiting – it’s much appreciated!

  7. john schultz Says:

    yes ..yes understand.The cards point to the door, and the two leading cards are a king of hearts(love), and the ace of spades(death). i am afraid my little friend (boy) in the painting will experience many different things as he goes out the door. Some will be nice and some will be not-so-nice.
    Those cards indicate the boy’s future.
    I wish my little friend in the painting the best of luck to his future.
    mahalo nui loa

  8. I suppose the door represents freedom (from childhood) but the child shall find that he cannot escape that which the cards indicate:) it’s a great picture!

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