And by the tree each put down their stake
What it was or who they agreed
To have as umpire isn’t our affair.
—La Fontaine, “The Hare and the Tortoise”
Whether Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and and François Boucher were ever in conscious competition with each other is a question that will probably have to remain unanswered. No documents have been found that support such a conjecture, which may seem, on the face of it, farfetched. For one thing, they did very different sorts of work. Boucher was a purveyor of sylphs and cherubs in the purest style pâtisserie; in their scrumptious birthday suits these creatures were destined to romp within the boiseries of the intimate suites that came into vogue during the reign of Louis XV. Chardin, by contrast, tackled mostly humble subjects, kitchen still lifes and...