Jean-Siméon Chardin was celebrated by his contemporaries for his still lifes painted with thick strokes of paint and great attention to detail. In this composition a boy poised on a window sill is blowing a soap bubble. Both he and the younger boy next to him are fully absorbed in the amusing activity; however, for the eighteenth- century viewer, bubbles were not only a form of entertainment, but symbols of the transience of life. The subject was popular in seventeenth-century Dutch prints which were widely disseminated in France, and Chardin made at least three and probably four versions of this painting. The monumentality of his figure here gives a twist to the vanitas theme: the suggestion that the boy is lazy and wasting his time.

Although Chardin gives the illusion he has caught two youths in an unsuspected moment, he has rigorously constructed his composition. The two boys are framed by a rectangular stone window, the sharp rectangles offset by the hunched youth whose arms and head form a triangle. This triangular shape is echoed in the hat of the younger boy. The focus of the composition, however, is the circular translucent bubble, which glistens when set against the muted warm brown tones of the canvas.


  • Title: Soap Bubbles
  • Date Created: probably 1733 - 1734
  • Physical Dimensions: w746 x h930 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Mrs. John W. Simpson
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Theme: genre, amusement
  • School: French
  • Provenance: Probably Adolphe Eugéne Gabriel Roehn [1780 1867], Paris, by 1845.[1] Laurent Laperlier [1805 1878], Paris and Mustapha, Algeria, by 1860;[2] (his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 11 13 April 1867, 1st day, no. 10); purchased by Biesta. (Gimpel and Wildenstein, New York and Paris); sold 1905 to John Woodruff Simpson [1850 1920], New York;[3] by inheritance to his widow, Katherine Seney Simpson [d. 1943], New York; gift 1942 to NGA. [1] See Pierre Rosenberg, Chardin, 1699 1779, Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris; Cleveland Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Cleveland, 1979: 205, for a discussion of the likely Roehn provenance. The painting is probably the one described as having been seen in the studio of "M. Roehn" in L'Artiste(5 August 1845): 72. [2] Laperlier lent the painting to an exhibition in Paris in 1860. He was a member of the military administration in Algeria after the French colonization of that country, and was an art patron and collector. [3] According to René Gimpel, Diary of an Art Dealer, trans. by John Rosenberg, New York, 1966: 300, discussing his father's sales for 1905. Dr. Diana Kostyrko, who completed her dissertation about René Gimpel for the Australian National University in 2007 and was given access by the Gimpel family to the original diaries, has kindly confirmed this diary passage and says that Gimpel was reading from an accounts book when he wrote the entry (e mail to Anne Halpern, 14 April 2007, in NGA curatorial files). Armand Dayot and Léandre Vaillat, L'Oeuvre de J. B. S. Chardin et de J. H. Fragonard, Paris, 1907: 4, no. 12, list the painting as owned by Mrs. Simpson. Harry Brooks of Wildenstein & Co. gives differing information in a letter of 11 September 1978 to David Rust (in NGA curatorial files), which says their Paris office "found records to the effect that the picture was bought [by the Simpsons] in March, 1914."
  • Artist: Jean Siméon Chardin

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