Celebrating the Ordinary – Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

Woman Cleaning Turnips, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin November 2, 1699 – December 6, 1779


There is something extraordinary about this modest white, bulbous taproot that comes in various sizes, the small tender ones destined for human consumption and their larger cousins that feed  livestock. Whether they are called rutabaga or neeps, they are rich in vitamin C, low in calories, and have the additional nutritional benefits of fiber and even protein.

Turnips have an illustrious past, with origins of domestication dating back to the 15th century BCE.  This lowly root graced the tables in Hellenistic and Roman times.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin celebrated the turnip in his vivid painting, “Women Cleaning Turnips.” There is a calm diligence in the woman’s bearing as if she is considering the full extent of her meal preparation.  The large quantity of turnips resting at her feet signal the task at hand is far from finished and that there would be a large gathering at meal time. The table and cooking accessories are her only helpers.  It appears she is content to be alone with her thoughts.

ChasingART is celebrating Jean-Baptiste-Siméon‘s birthday today. He was born in Paris in 1699, the son of a cabinetmaker.  He may have come from humble circumstances, but his fate was to become Louis XV’s “Premier peintre du roi” with a pension of 1500 livres.

In life, there are serendipitous events that thrust us into divergent pathways. So it was with Jean-Baptiste-Siméon when he exhibited a painting at the Place Dauphine, located close to the famous Pont Neuf.  Jean-Baptiste van Loo , a well-known French subject and portrait painter happened to pass by and was intrigued. Not only did he buy the painting, but he assisted the young man who shared his name, Jean-Baptiste.

What I most admire about the “Woman Cleaning Turnips” is the respect, even reverence, that Jean-Baptiste-Siméon gave to day-to day life. Working slowly, he bestowed the same meticulous attention to all of his paintings. During his lifetime which spanned 80 years, he created approximately 200 paintings.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin influenced many others who followed him, including Édouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Chaim Soutine, Georges Braque, Georgia Morandi and Lucian Freud.

Happy Birthday, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin!

22 Replies to “Celebrating the Ordinary – Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin”

  1. Just found this exquisite post, Rebecca… how I love Chardin and your words that matched the sweet sensitivity of the painting… these sort of paintings – like the lovely Dutch interiors from an earlier period, are full of what I’d call mindfulness, and that sort of living, lifts every moment and every activity to a level of beauty we don’t experience in any other way…
    This painting is such a reminder to be mindful during the washing up, and chopping of onions – a scrubbing of turnips…and let those apparently mundane moments light up our day !!!

    1. Ah, Valerie, you have a marvelous eloquence in your writing. It is a joy to read your thoughts. I agree – mindfulness is a call to action that influences our thoughts and emotional responses. In our world, we are rewarded for our multi-tasking, busy work that keeps us floating on adrenaline. How much better to embrace a tranquil spirit which leads to more productive outcomes. Thank you for “lighting up my day.”

  2. An incredible painting of an ordinary mundane task, this work elevating the woman’s task to the extraordinary, the contemplation and absorption in her work highlighted for us all to see!

    1. Thank you, Annika for your lovely comments. Those seemingly unimportant activities in our lives have the power to be extraordinary. I agree – this woman elevates a mundane task to the act of feeding a family and keeping them safe from hunger. There is joy in being able to work with our hands, to see the outcomes of our endeavours. Looking back, I recall many kitchen scenes when I worked with my mother to create memorable moments around our dining table.

  3. ” It appears she is content to be alone with her thoughts.” === so true, but before I read your post, I admired the image and thought, ‘This represents total contentment in the task, and an unhurrried approach…’ I pondered how in today’s world, it’s difficult to stay true to one’s focus, especially in the arts if there are distractions – like well-meaning neighbors or the telephone ringing or the sound of the television or a need to stop to attend a meeting or—-

    And then I read the post – always a gift to step into your world and treasure your sensitive style of sharing what is dear to your heart.

    This week I’ve been enjoying some of Leonardi da Vinci’s writings, which address the above.. more on that soon!

    1. Why is it that when a phone rings, we must answer? It is a stimulus/response that still mystifies me because we seem programmed to react, to do. I recall a friend setting her clock to alert her throughout the day. When I asked why – well, it was to remind her to be grateful, To take time away from whatever was considered “urgent” and give thanks for the extraordinary moments that were given to her. Thank you for your insight for giving me an extraordinary moment to begin my day. I am filled with gratitude.

  4. It’s a gift to be able to recognize the extradordinary in the mundane and then to share that vision with others. The serendipity that he experienced is also a gift to us.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly! Serendipity has a way of influencing our paths, whether or not we believe in the possibility of chance occurrences, unpredictable interjections. I have found the word, emergence – the process of coming into view, of coming into being – has profound significance because of its linkages to imagination. Life is more exciting, more daring if we imagine the extraordinary in the the ordinary events of life. You are so right – serendipity is a gift. And one that I will embrace with joyful abandon. Thank you for your comments and visit. Hugs!

  5. Ein einfühlsames und wunderschönes Portrait über Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin, der dieses Bild “Die Frau die weisse Rüben schält” gemalt hat. Herzlichen Dank liebe Rebecca und eine frohe Zeit. Ernst

    1. Danke für Ihre ermutigenden Kommentare. Ich schätze unsere Freundschaft und lese gerne Ihre Beiträge. Künstler erlauben uns, tief darüber nachzudenken, was wichtig ist. Ich erinnere mich an meine Großmutter, die Stunden in der Küche verbrachte, um Mahlzeiten für eine große Familie zuzubereiten. Jetzt können wir fertige Abendessen im örtlichen Supermarkt kaufen.

      1. Danke für die nette Antwort Rebecca. Auch ich schätze unsere Freundschaft sehr und lasse ihre interessanten Berichte übersetzen, damit ich sie besser verstehe.

  6. Hi Rebecca: Thank you for sharing the story of this artist. I learned something new today! I also like to find out more and more, as you said “one thing leads to another and another”. Can’t wait to see your new great art calendar story!

    1. Thank you Denise. I appreciate your enthusiasm and friendship. Here’s a hint for what’s coming: robbery at the Louvre! Have a wonderful day!

  7. It’s a beautifully contemplative piece; the turnips almost seem incidental. Something else which caught my eye was the meat cleaver. That has a certain menace to it.

    1. Indeed there is! An excellent observation, Gallivanta! A reminder that meal preparation is not for the faint of heart. Consider, grocery stores offer a sterile environment that hides what it takes to bring food to our table. In fact, there is a tendency to purchase ready-made food which adds another layer between farmer and table.

      1. Thanks to your post I have had a lovely time looking through his paintings; there are many which show the meat and the fish. In those paintings we really see the ‘farm to table’ philosophy at work. 😉

  8. What an extraordinary gift this gentleman gave to society, his exploring and lifting of the ordinary is worthy and splendid. The painting you selected for this post brings so many thoughts to my mind. Our farm family garden produced some of these that we harvested and enjoyed! Thanks for sharing!

  9. I adore art which elevates the humble and the hum-drum to something worthy of admiration. Is this another picture from your lovely art calendar? I look forward to the start of each month eagerly!!! 🙂 x

    1. “Women Cleaning Turnips” came to me when I was searching information on turnips. Every time I enter a word into a Google search, I find myself down Alice’s rabbit hole. One thing leads to another and another… But I have a great art calendar story coming up. Stay tuned. Even I was surprised where this one ended up….

      1. Isn’t that just the marvel and beauty of blogging?! I often sit down to write about a particular thing, only to find that my post ends up being about something completely different, lol!

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