Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) changed the vision of painting in the 18th century. Far away from the Rococo and other grandiloquent styles, Chardin desired to depict daily life scenes and paint genre art. However, he ran away from the anecdote and picturesque detail and by doing so he distinguished himself from the Flemish school. He took away all references to contemporary events or fashion. Chardin looked for common, recurrent and timeless scenes. He usually depicted expressionless, non individualized faces and all his attention was on gesture.
This oil on canvas, named Soap bubbles, was made in 1733/4. Nowadays it is on view in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. There are three versions of this painting including the D.C. one, and the others are in New York City and Los Angeles. This is Chardin’s first painting dedicated to childhood or the beginning of the teen years. We can see a young teen surrounded by an edifice made of stone. The boy is making bubbles with a straw and soap. On the left on the painting, there are some plants and on the right a child is hidden by the building. In this painting, we can see the Flemish school inspiration: the brushstrokes are not precise on the outline to favor the whole painting, the colors are mostly in brown-ochre tones, and the subject is simple and part of the daily life.
One of the major novelties in the 18th century’s mentality is the interest in childhood and teen years, while soap bubbles were quite frequent. The interpretation of the painting can be tricky, and it is unclear if we should see a moral or philosophic significance. Chardin doesn’t really linger on this aspect. There is a poem with the engraving of the painting which invites the young man to be wary towards women who are as variable as the soap bubbles. However, the interest of the canvas seems to be in Chardin’s new look on the young man, who is lost in his melancholic daydreaming and his meditation.