Amazing Grace

Unfortunately, there are none of the late pastel self-portraits on hand to humanize Chardin. In the catalog, they're captivating. At first you think he's in drag, some sort of goofball swami. Outfitted in glasses and bundled in some kind of turban or headdress, he's a strange combination of Ed Wynn, Ben Franklin, Bea Arthur, and a kindly uncle.

The mundane transforms itself into something ravishing: The Ray (1725–26).
photo: Musee Du Louvre, Paris/Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The mundane transforms itself into something ravishing: The Ray (1725–26).

Writers almost always add that Chardin paints love, not sex. As if ardor would soil the purity and the "goodness" of his art. But there's lots of sex in Chardin. It's that tingly, sensuous, voluptuous buzz you feel standing in front of his best work. It's what we mean when we say we love Chardin: He paints our rapturous infatuation with life.

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