Manet’s and Chardin’s Soap Bubbles (18th/19th Cent.)

Manet’s 1867 painting of his son blowing bubbles clearly refers to Chardin’s painting of the same subject. In fact, Chardin’s was sold at public auction in Paris the same year. Manet must have seen it but what did he see? Charming as each painting is, they are not about bubbles per se. To read these paintings on the poetic level you need to imagine something else; you need to think like an artist. Imagine this……

Imagine that Manet’s son, Leon, is in front of a canvas, his hand poised to paint. The tip of the straw in this view is a paintbrush and the bowl is a palette. Leon is posed like Manet himself. Furthermore, the surface of the canvas that Leon “paints” is our own canvas, the one we are looking at! Think about this and the painting becomes a reflection of the artist. Moreover, as the metaphor within the word reflection suggests, we are looking into the mirror of Manet’s mind.

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Manet, Boy Blowing Smoke Bubbles (1867-9) Oil on canvas. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

Click image to enlarge.

In Chardin’s painting, on the other hand, imagine that the young man is bent over a piece of paper creating, say, a watercolor or pastel. His hand holds a “brush” , “pencil” or “pastel”. In confirmation of your imagination, the inquisitive boy in the dark background, learning from this maitre, has the eyes and eyebrows, and perhaps even the young nose also, of Chardin himself.  

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Chardin, Soap Bubble (after 1739) Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Click image to enlarge.

Compare his face to the self-portrait. The subject is not blowing bubbles but art and Manet knew it when he saw it.

See conclusion below

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Chardin's Soap Bubble
R: Detail of Chardin’s Self-Portrait 

Click image to enlarge.

Meyer Schapiro did suggest long ago that Manet’s son might be holding a brush and palette but few other scholars have embraced the idea, some only suggesting that it may be a reflection on art.1 You now know better and can use this knowledge to understand other paintings by Manet, Chardin and and their peers. See for yourself.

Notes:

1. Cited without source in George Mauner, Manet: Peintre-Philosophe, A Study of the Painter’s Themes (The Pennsylvania State University Press) 1975, p.135

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 16 Jun 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.