By Leo P Hirrel; Center of Military History
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136 Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the emphasis both in criticism and in painting itself shifts from the representation of absorption to the representation of heroic or grandly pathetic action and expression. The contrast between the paintings by Greuze that we have examined and his dramatic masterpieces of the second half of the 1770s, Le Fils ingrat (1777; Fig. 41) and Le Fils pltni (1778; Fig. 42), may be taken as illustrating this shift. 137 Only after the final collapse of the Davidian tradition, a traditIon which itself epitomizes that shift of emphasis, will absorption return with a vengeance in the art of Courbet.
In short the theme of blindness is made the basis for a narrative-dramatic structure which, as frequently in Greuze's art, asserts the primacy of absorption. 134 Chardin's painting of a blind beggar and his dog, on the other hand, does not represent an absorptive activity or condition (though probably the beggar's attitude should be seen as one of patient waiting and listening). I suggest, however, that the depiction of blindness in L'Al/eugle implies a relation to the beholder that goes beyond that implied by the depiction of absorption in his other genre paintings-more precisely, that the blindness of the beggar is in effect a guarantee that that figure is unaware of the beholder's presence and is likely to remain so.
Diderot's admiration for Chardin, often construed as a sign of inconsistency in this regard, is in fact nothing of the sort. For Diderot as for others among his contemporaries, Chardin's greatness consisted preeminently in his ability to overcome the triviality of his subject matter by virtue of an unprecedented mastery of the means of imitation, an all but miraculous power to evoke the reality of objects, space, and air. "Si Ie sublime du technique n'y etoit pas," Diderot writes with characteristic vigor, ''l'ideal de Chardin seroit miserable" (If the sublime of technique were not there, Chardin's ideal would be a wretched one).