A follow-up on Boucher and Chardin at the Wallace

Chardin La toilette

Chardin La toilette

I have now seen the Boucher & Chardin exhibition twice and still can’t decide what it was about: was it tea in the 18th century? French versus English way of life? Chardin versus Boucher? All three, I believe, possibly more. In any case, it was too much for a two-room show.  Yet those shortcomings could not diminish my enjoyment of the works displayed.

Look in particular at this Chardin painting of a mother putting the finishes touches to her little girl’s Sunday best in preparation for Mass. A quiet display of love and grace.

Now compare this Chardin to Boucher’s take on a morning toilette, below. The scene here is purely worldly, and the lady shows quite a bit of leg while tying her garter. The interaction is with a maid, who brings her mistress an elegant cap. The lady still wears a smock on her shoulders, probably because her hair has just been powdered.

Boucher La toilette 1742

Boucher La toilette 1742

The lady’s attitude is, well, not very ladylike, and the clutter of the room, the various objects lying on the floor create an impression of confusion. Quite the opposite of the serenity of the Chardin.

These paintings illustrate beautifully the diverging currents in 18th century French society.

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7 Comments to “A follow-up on Boucher and Chardin at the Wallace”

  1. Catherine Delors says:

    Richard – Madame Campan did eventually open a school, but before that she was First Chambermaid to the Queen. What if the standing woman, without being a servant, were a companion or a poor relation? I somehow sense her to be socially inferior to the sitting lady. Regardless of who is right in this friendly debate, I hope you will continue commenting!

  2. Richard Boisvert says:

    Elena and Catherine, My dear adversaries on this debate. Well, the clothes worn by the woman you suppose is the maid are very close to the fashion worn by the, what can I call her, “Mistress” are very close. I muast also add Mde. Campan was a teacher not a maid.

    Evedently I have been upstaged by my own research. I still do not think that the woman is a maid. she is just too fashionable. Perhaps it tis because I am the male. The cut of the c;loth and the fabric make me decline to say yes.

    See this site:

    This is a real good blog I am sending you to…Perhaps we should ask her…
    If I am wrong I will never comment on things distaff again.

    Vive le Roy.
    de Brantigny

  3. Catherine Delors says:

    Isn’t it funny, Elena, how we as women seem to have the same instinctive reaction to this painting? Also think of the habit of presenting one’s chambermaid with one’s old gowns.
    If there any art historians out there, please jump in!

  4. I am no art historian, but my sense is that she is a maid of some kind, too. Her skirts are turned up, after all. A very great lady would have had attendants who dressed in such apparel. Madame Campan would have worn such clothes while waiting on Marie-Antoinette. And very wealthy aristocrats, too, would have had such attendants.

  5. Catherine Delors says:

    Elena – It wasn’t even cluttered. About a dozen paintings, in fact, but the quality more than makes up for the small quantity of the works displayed.

    Richard – There is no such thing as too much information, and yours is most valuable. Is the standing woman a maid or an equal? You may well be right. I always “sensed” her to be in some way inferior to the sitting lady, admittedly without any rational basis, and would welcome the input of an art historian.

  6. Richard says:

    Catherine, I realize that is is hard to see from this copy as I can not blow it up but…

    The one you have referred to as a maid, doesn’t look like a maid to me…

    The image in the photo,(I send the URL)
    is one I would more associate with a maid. (Photos come from the Rassemblement 1995 à la Forteresse de louisbourg in Nova Scotia)

    The “maid” looks to be more of an equal to the mistress, possibly the sister. Why do I say this? It is because she is wearing a Robe a la Francaise, and Panniers. This was the fashiobable day wear in the 1770’s throught the early 1790’s.
    see, http://www.gggodwin.com/dresses.htm

    The “maid” also wears lace around her the sleeves of her dress which to me indicates that she is not much of a duster, mopper of fetcher of tea.

    I include a Url from a Canadien who specializes in 17th and especially 18th century clothing.

    The top painting I would say is the better of the two and the one I would wish to own. (fat chance) I believe that group is bourgeois, because the woman has her petticoat pinned up. In the 16-18th century the petticoat was worn as a woman would waer a skirt today. Sometimes two or more would be worn, and to permit freedom of the legs women would pin them up, all the way around or just on one side.

    Incidently they used strait pins made from brass wire. It took an hour to make 8, during a 12 hour day the maker would make 96. At the end of a day the few sous the manufacturer made enough to buy a loaf of bread. A woman of society would not have to pin up her petticoats.

    I know To much information.

    de Brantigny

  7. Catherine, thank you for adding the Boucher. What a contrast with Chardin!

    Two rooms– that does sound a bit cluttered!

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