Adapting the subjects of Dutch cabinet pictures and still lifes of the previous century to French taste, Chardin elevated these genres to the very highest level. His works are exceptional in their sentient depiction of everyday experience and observed reality. Few artists have ever equaled the subtlety of his vision or the sensitivity of his technique, with its richly textured impasto and muted coloration.
Although small in size, Young Student Drawing was one of Chardin’s most famous works. The fact that he returned to the composition repeatedly over a twenty-year period, painting no fewer than twelve versions, indicates the popularity of the subject and its importance to him. In it he seems to have been making a comment on the arduous process of artistic training followed by the French Academy. In Chardin’s view, quoted by Diderot in his Salon of 1765, the various stages of training were merely means toward an end—the release of the creative ability. At the beginning, however, the young artist was like the blank canvas at the right—a tabula rasa.
According to an old label on the back of the panel, this work was acquired in Paris in 1848 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous Franco-British engineer and bridge designer.