Great Works: The Copper drinking Fountain, 1734 (28cm x 23cm), Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

Musée du Louvre, Paris

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was a doggedly persistent painter. He was at work during the Age of Enlightenment when notions of what constituted the real were shifting. Newtonian physics was making its mark. He returned again and again to the same motifs. And yet to use such a word as motif feels not quite right. It smacks too much of art-historical connoisseurship. What we should do instead is to name the actual humdrum objects that he painted: the game birds, the kitchen utensils, the heaped basket of wild strawberries, with glass, flower, peach and cherries in attendance. Not much, one would say. More than enough, he would reply – along with posterity. He was a Parisian painter, and to paint such lowly things was not quite a Parisian thing to do. Was that not best left to those Lowlanders up in the North? Chardin disagreed. Not noisily though. He simply continued to do what he did best, to carve out a niche for himself, over decades. In spite of the fact that he was a million miles from the bravura of the fashionable history painter, the Académie accepted him for what he was.

Here we have, in a painting that he made when he was 35 years of age, the essence of everything that he was, and everything that he strove to be. Here is the transfiguration of the utterly ordinary. We could think of Morandi in the context of these objects, but Chardin is more giving than Morandi in certain respects, more colourful, less pared back, more ready to acknowledge and celebrate the potential for visual richness and variety in the utterly ordinary, more ready to robustly characterise and animate that which is so often overlooked or undervalued.

The organisation of this still life of kitchen objects is almost comically Edward Lear-like in its deft allusion to hierarchies. The copper water fountain, bearer of the source of all life, lords it over the other objects, whose role it is to collect and then distribute what the fountain dispenses. It feels unbudgeable, at the centre of its own universe, lord of all it surveys. It has an almost religious, monstrance-like centrality, bulgingly bishop-like, prideful to the brim with its own secure presence in this world. It positively swells outward in the presence of onlookers. Its aura of sacredness is comically enhanced by its dull, coppery gleam, which also gives it a hint of monkishness. Monk and bishop all in one then. The knob at the top of its lid nudges up against the very top of the painting, as if, like some rebel angel, this fountain is dangerously challenging the heights. It can go no further. It has reached its apogee. Its base, thanks to its faithful support and retainer (a particularly dependable and workaday looking four-legged stool), is lodged solid on the dappled and rather indeterminate surface that it shares with the objects which attend upon it, and even in this particularly straitened and hole-in-corner domestic environment, seem to depend upon it for their utility, their very reason-for-being. The other objects look less solidly lodged here, more itinerant by nature. By their very haphazard positioning close to the urn, facing in this direction or that, randomly squeezed up together or raggedly set apart from each other, they seem to be ready to go out into the world of the rest of the house, filling other containers as and when that service is required. Not so this fountain. Things come to it, and those who bear these things. There is nothing for it but this place. It is too massy, too utterly dominating of its own tiny universe beside this stretch of old wall, against which its shadow looms, to wish for anything better or different. It feels utterly defined here, utterly itself.

Yes, it is almost as if this still life is serving as a kind of parable, as a way of expressing Chardin's fast held opinions about that which underpins and makes possible – he was also much given to the drawing of servants, who are often to be found using such objects as the ones that we can see in this painting – the orderly life of those who lord it over (and choose to ignore, for the most part) such objects as these. The physical triumphalism of this painting is all about the essential dignity of the lowly, whether animate or not, and how we depend upon them. Without them we would simply not be able to go about our gloriously superficial lives.

There is no activity of any kind in this painting. No water drips to steal our attention away from the objecthood of the black jug, the bucket, the ladle and the copper fountain itself. There is an immense solidity and authority to this fountain. It seems to wish to posture before our very eyes as it stands proudly high on its stool. The concentric rings of its lid seem to adorn it and to shift it, just a touch, in the direction of an object of decorative beauty. That cover could be a rather exotic hat of a particularly handsome Mongol kind.

This is evidently a further point to bear in mind: the lowly can be unexpectedly beautiful too. It is just a matter of the angle at which you choose to see them, whether with the naked eye or, squinting just a touch, through the ivory-handled lorgnette. If the latter, you pass on quickly and miss life's essentials.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) had a particularly subtle and unemphatic manner of painting, and a choice of subject matter that seldom rose above the humdrum. In the flamboyant age of Boucher and Fragonard, he felt a touch out of key with his times. For all that, his dogged virtues won out in the end. In his paintings of ordinary objects and ordinary people, he succeeded in investing the day-to-day with exquisite qualities.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot