Buffet


To be admitted to the French XVIII century Royal Academy a painter had to paint one auto-portrait and two portraits of his colleagues. This is why there are so many of them at the Louvre. What if the painter’s specialty happened to be landscape or still-life? Those were considered as minor genres, of course, with the standards for admission much laxer. The above still-life, for example, was submitted to the Academy on 25 September 1728; and the very same day the painter was received as a member, which is exceptionally fast. On this subject I remember an anecdote where the author of Buffet, Jean-Simeon Chardin, gave his friend, Joseph Aved, an advice when the latter got upset about a smaller than usual payment for painting a portrait. “When you get famous, you will ask for more.” “Sure,” answered Aved, “and I wouldn’t fuss, if it were as easy to paint as sausage.”

Joseph Aved should have been more charitable to his friend — Chardin’s painting made it all the way to the personal collection of Louis XV! The king appreciated its psychological subtlety; after all, what we see there is not just a pile of peaches, but a commentary on the nature of desire itself. So let us recapitulate the formal elements of the composition — a pyramid of fruit coveted by a parrot, plus a dog longing to catch that bird, and the observer of the whole scene, that is, in our case, the reader of the article.

If we were to make a copy of the painting, we would have to start by figuring out its composition: The center is dominated by the red triangle of fruit; this triangle is echoed by the triangle of the dog’s body seen from the back. Then if we admit that the dog and the fruits merge into one bigger triangle, this would give us a tripartite division of the pictorial space — roughly three triangles: the central one with its base at the bottom of the picture, and the other two, their bases at the top of the picture, they are hanging like stalactites, both of them responsible for the dark background space; and in this obscurity the right triangle”hides” the bird; for the bird is almost unnoticeable there. The “invisibility” of the bird turns the dog’s nose into a false pointer that guides the viewer’s eye toward the pyramid of fruit, making those huge peaches so much more desirable to us, even though we immediately suspect some kind of a ruse — dogs do not eat fruit.

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About versaillesgossip, before and after Francis Ponge

The author of the blogs Versailles Gossip and Before and After Francis Ponge, Vadim Bystritski lives and teaches in Brest France. The the three main themes of his literary endeavours are humor, the French Prose Poetry, the French XVII and XVIII Century Art and History. His writings and occasionally art has been published in a number of ezines (Eratio, Out of Nothing, Scars TV, etc). He also contributes to Pinterest where he comments on the artifiacts from the Louvre and other collections. Some of his shorter texts are in Spanish, Russian and French.
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