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Jean-Siméon Chardin, The Water Cistern ('La Fontaine')

Key facts
Full title The Water Cistern ('La Fontaine')
Artist Jean-Siméon Chardin
Artist dates 1699 - 1779
Date made 1733 or later (possibly 1737-9)
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 37.5 × 44.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1898
Inventory number NG1664
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Water Cistern ('La Fontaine')
Jean-Siméon Chardin

A maid, her face partially hidden by her white bonnet, draws water from a large copper cistern in a scullery with a cobbled floor. As she bends forward, her straight back leads us to an open doorway on the right through which we can see another servant talking to a young child, who stands before yet another door. The second servant also wears a white bonnet and her pose almost mirrors that of the woman filling the jug.

The device of a view through an open doorway to the side of the picture was often used by Dutch and Flemish artists, but Chardin’s painting is a still life as well as a scene of domestic life. In contrast to the human presence on the right, the left-hand side of the picture is filled with household objects. Full of detailed observation, this is a glimpse of servants’ lives ‘below stairs’, which were very different from those of the wealthy collectors who bought Chardin’s pictures.

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