A lesson in looking – Chardin and white chocolate truffles

Homemade-teacakesBack in May I tried out a new recipe for cranberry and white chocolate truffles. They were too sweet for my taste so I rolled them in toasted, chopped almonds to add a nutty flavour. It was a slight improvement, but in all honestly they looked a lot better than they tasted so I decided to photograph them before chucking them in the food recycling caddy.

truffles teapot
Bowl of white chocolate truffles and teapot reminding me of the paintings by Chardin.

When I sorted through the photos I’d taken this one (above) stood out and the more I looked at it the more it reminded me of something. And, then it clicked – it had a ‘Chardin’ like quality. I think it’s the restricted palette and lighting, and the pared back nature which made me think of Chardin. It was totally by accident as when I tried to deliberately recreate a Chardin style photograph I found it impossible.

Every now and then it’s useful to step back from your own work and refresh your creative juices by looking at the visual world through another’s eyes. I thought attempting a Chardin style photo would help me to look and observe in a new way. For this exercise I chose the still life painting ‘White teapot’ as my starting point.

'White teapot' still life by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. (1699 - 1779) Private collection
‘White teapot’ still life by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. (1699 – 1779)
Private collection

Firstly, I collected together the subject matter including a couple of bunches of grapes saved from the blackbirds.


Instantly I realised I was going to have to change the background for something plainer and less obvious.


Then plenty of looking and re-looking at the original painting and adjusting the position of the objects to work with the effect of the camera lens in an attempt to achieve an image more like a painting. Of course, a photograph does not reproduce how we focus on the world anymore than an artist’s interpretation does. But, through looking at still life works by artists such as Chardin you can certainly appreciate how skilfully and subtly artists manipulate what is in focus, what they guide us to attend to and how their compositions evoke a response from us. In the end, for me, my most interesting photograph was the shot that captured a sense of drama through the lighting. And, the lesson for my own work – ‘think tonal contrast’.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

6 thoughts on “A lesson in looking – Chardin and white chocolate truffles”

  1. Your resulting photo is wonderful! It looks like it took lots of patience and you’re so right about making us appreciate more the amazing skills of the old masters. You threw away the truffles!!

    1. Yes, the old masters I doff my cap to them! As to the truffles they were a gloopy, sickly sweet failure. I normally use dark chocolate (70% plus cocoa solids) it was definitely the white chocolate that was the problem.

  2. One subtle difference – the direction of the light. I’m sure I read somewhere that there was a tradition for lighting still life paintings from the left, though I’m sure you may be more qualified to confirm whether this is true?

    1. Ah well, my kitchen worktop is lit from an east facing window – so rather stuck with that. But more seriously, I’m an ‘up to Carpaccio’ rather than a ‘from Veronese onwards’ type of art historian so strictly speaking, though I love Chardin, my comments are not academically informed. Certainly in the Western tradition from the Renaissance onwards there is a convention to light from the upper left, but being schooled in an approach to art history which concerns itself with limitations of art production as much as aesthetics, I can’t help but think that maybe the tradition grew out of practical issues. If you work in daylight with a north facing window and you wish to work from the beginning of the day then your subject will be lit from the left, from the east. A banal consideration, but no doubt much discussed somewhere in the literature. Anyway, aren’t conventions to be subverted? Perhaps a question more interestingly discussed by philosophers and psychologists than art historians.

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