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Boucher and Chardin - The Wallace Collection

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

A SPECIAL exhibition of works by Jean-Siméon Chardin and François Boucher, Boucher and Chardin: Masters of Modern Manners, will be on display at The Wallace Collection from June 12 to September 7, 2008.

Included will be two of the greatest French paintings of the eighteenth century – Chardin’s Lady Taking Tea and Boucher’s A Lady On Her Daybed – on loan from the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow and the Frick Collection in New York. United with other important canvases, they will evoke a classical moment in French genre painting.

At the beginning of the century, Antoine Watteau had developed carefree outdoor gatherings, known as Fêtes galantes, as a new and successful formula in French painting. Some of his successors continued in this vain, but a new generation of painters entirely changed focus. Jean Siméon Chardin introduced a new intimacy and middle-class values into French genre painting, while François Boucher produced genre scenes set in a luxurious and carefree dream world.

No works could better express this turning point than the paintings from Glasgow and New York. In both the artists depict women in an intimate environment and with great directness, but at the same time the two paintings could not be more different. Seemingly unaware of the beholder, Mme. Chardin is taking tea, while the woman in Boucher’s painting displays herself and the luxury objects in her room with an engaging directness.

The Frick Collections Lady On Her Daybed is one of the quintessential French rococo paintings, while Chardin’s Lady Taking Tea has always been regarded as one of his masterworks and is today considered his single most important figure painting. Further genre paintings by both artists and their contemporaries will evoke the whole range of their accomplishments and the situation in French genre painting at a “moment of perfection”.

A tea pot and tea cups feature prominently in the background in Boucher’s interior, while Mme. Chardin is about to enjoy her cup of tea. The common subject of tea drinking is further explored in French and English works of the same period. How was this new subject treated in both cultures? In England, William Hogarth takes an ambivalent approach, depicting tea drinking as wholesome but also as a symbol of the dangers of luxury.

While the exhibition focuses on French genre painting and depictions of tea drinking, it also evokes the background of tea drinking through a small selection of objects and books. A gallery trail in the Wallace Collection will guide visitors to objects in the permanent collection, linked to 18th-century tea drinking.

This exhibition will also offer a rare opportunity to see works by Chardin in the context of the Wallace Collection, which holds one of the finest collections of French 18th-century painting in the world, but no works by this great artist.

The exhibition will be organised jointly by the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow, and the Wallace Collection, London.

The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, W1U 3BN.

Times: Monday to Sunday, from 10am to 5pm.

Admission: Free.

For more information call 020 7563 950 or visit the website.

The exhibition will be on display at the Hunterian Art Gallery Glasgow from September 24 to December 13, 2008.