La Fontaine (The Water Cistern)

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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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.

The National Gallery, London



La Fontaine (The Water Cistern)


1733 or later


Oil on canvas


H 37.5 x W 44.5 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1898

Work type



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