French, 1815-1891


'While still very young, Meissonier showed an extremely strong interest in fine arts, and he entered Léon Cogniet's studio at an early age. He made his debut in 1834 with a genre picture, Visiting the Burgomaster, which was acquired by the Société des Amis des Arts. This minor success persuaded his father to send him to Rome. On his return to Paris, he worked as an illustrator for a time while also sending to the annual salons pictures that were clearly inspired by a desire to imitate the Dutch, notably the Flemish Burghers of 1836, scenes from the lives of Louis XIII's musketeers, middle-class Dutch of the 17th century or 18th-century gentlemen. He thus obtained a third-class medal in 1840, then a second-class medal in 1841 and first-class medals in 1843 and 1848. Works dating from this period include Double Bass-Player, Halberdier, Great Smoker and Chess Game, which clearly revealed the school from which Meissonier had proceeded. His Brawl, which appeared at the Salon of 1855, crowned his fame conclusively. This picture, which won him the grand medal of honour, was bought by Napoleon III, who offered it to English sovereigns as a memento of their visit to France. In 1859, Meissonier followed the Italian campaign as part of the general staff. He tried out historical painting in his Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino, which gave him the idea of painting the epic tale of the first Napoleon, and from then he began, without neglecting genre painting, to paint his great historical canvases, such as Campaign of France, Jena, 1807, Castiglione and Cuirassiers. Awarded the Légion d'Honneur in 1846, Meissonier was made a member of the Institute in 1861. In 1889, he was elected President of the Jury International des Beaux Arts by popular acclaim. There are few artists who have enjoyed such a worldwide reputation in their own lifetime, followed immediately after death by an equal measure of neglect. To equal the Dutch painters whom he followed and imitated, Meissonier lacked two qualities that these painters possessed to an extraordinary degree: a feeling for life and light. His genre pictures are minor masterpieces of meticulous work, but they are lacking in feeling. The same criticism could be made of his military pictures, which are broad and contrived compositions. However, tribute should also be paid to his celebrated skill, superior dexterity and attention to detail, although this attention is sometimes actually excessive. His drawings reveal his dexterity and conscientiousness. He occupied too prominent a position in the art of the time not to be remembered at all, if only for his pictures of museums, but it might have been foreseen that the vogue for his work would not stand the test of time. In his favourite subjects, the concern for detail always makes him overlook the essentials. When he abandoned the themes that had brought him success, he rediscovered freshness and spontaneity of feeling: thus, he illustrated for Curmer Paul et Virginie (Paul et Virginie) in 1838, The French Painted by Themselves (Les Français peints par eux-mêmes) in 1840 and the Tales from Rheims (Contes rémois) in 1858. His preparatory sketches demonstrate his personality and spirit. When he retraces a drama that he has experienced personally (rather than from the epic of Napoleon I, which he knew only from other people's accounts), he is capable of emotion, as in Barricade on the Rue de la Mortellerie of 1848, now at the Louvre. He also painted some landscapes for their intrinsic qualities, without either composing them or using figures, such as Antibes, Horse Riding in 1868, or Canal in Venice in 1885. Meissonier was a personality of contradictory aspects, and although Baudelaire did not appreciate him, he was defended by Delacroix and admired by Odilon Redon and Van Gogh. He was one of the people responsible for the enforced exile in 1873 of Courbet, to whom he was politically opposed, but he accepted Sisley and Renoir into the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts founded by him in 1889.' (Benezit, Dictionary of Artists, Gründ, 2006)

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Paintings for sale

Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier
Paintings Previously Sold

JEAN-LOUIS ERNEST MEISSONIER    Father Batti   Oil on panel 7¼ x 4¼ inches (18 x 10 cm.)  SOLD

Father Batti
Oil on panel
7¼ x 4¼ inches (18 x 10 cm.)