Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin is one of the most famous 18th-century painters. He is best known for his pastel portraits, still lifes, and everyday life scenes, with a particular preference for childhood games. His paintings are the embodiment of a graceful, carefree, sometimes superficial way of seeing things: a life in pastel tones. It is not the painter’s vision of the world in general, but a vision of daily human life, so fleeting and ephemeral that it remains on the surface of things.

Soap Bubbles is a perfect example. A childhood game that creates perfect spheres of pure inconsistency, doomed to vanish in a few seconds, becomes a metaphor for the impermanence of life. Seen from a modern perspective, there can be a second key to childhood weariness and genuineness, but this poetic vision of children did not belong to Chardin’s era. The association between soap bubbles and themes of some kind of burden, as in the transience of life, generates an oxymoron that would develop from the nineteenth century.

Even Disney cartoons used soap bubbles to give a moral message to their viewers. An example is Dumbo. The little elephant finds himself drunk by mistake, in his mentor mouse company, he starts fantasizing and playing with the soap bubbles produced by Dumbo’s trunk. After a few artistic attempts, the alcohol takes effect, and the big bubbles turn into giant pink elephants. Thus, the visionary nightmare begins to unfold in an artistic and psychedelic test, that showed considerable skill for a cartoon from 1941. 

Today, November 2, 2020, we celebrate Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, his 321st birthday, with his carefree and light-hearted Soap Bubbles in these hard times.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain.