Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (21 February 1815 – 31 January 1891) was a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
Classicism, in the arts, refers generally to a high regard for classical antiquity, as setting standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate. The art of classicism typically seeks to be formal and restrained: of the Discobolus Sir Kenneth Clark observed, "if we object to his restraint...
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...
Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials—typically stone such as marble—or metal, glass, or wood. Softer materials can also be used, such as clay, textiles, plastics, polymers and softer metals...
famous for his depictions of Napoleon
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...
, his armies
An army An army An army (from Latin arma "arms, weapons" via Old French armée, "armed" (feminine), in the broadest sense, is the land-based military of a nation or state. It may also include other branches of the military such as the air force via means of aviation corps...
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...
themes. He documented siege
A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault. The term derives from sedere, Latin for "to sit". Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of constant, low intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static...
s and manoeuvres and was the teacher of Édouard Detaille
Jean Baptiste Édouard Detaille , was a French Academic painter and military artist noted for his precision and realistic detail....
BiographyErnest Meissonier was born at Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....
. From his schooldays he showed a taste for painting, to which some early sketches, dated 1823, bear witness. After being placed with a druggist, he obtained leave from his parents to become an artist, and, owing to the recommendation of a painter named Potier, himself a second class Prix de Rome
Prix de Rome
The Prix de Rome was a scholarship for arts students, principally of painting, sculpture, and architecture. It was created, initially for painters and sculptors, in 1663 in France during the reign of Louis XIV. It was an annual bursary for promising artists having proved their talents by...
, he was admitted to Léon Cogniet
Léon Cogniet was a French historical and portrait painter.- Biography :Cogniet was born in Paris. In 1812, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied under Pierre-Narcisse Guérin at the same time as Delacroix and Géricault. In 1817 he won the Prix de Rome and was a resident at...
's studio. He also formed his style after the Dutch masters as represented in the Louvre
The Musée du Louvre – in English, the Louvre Museum or simply the Louvre – is one of the world's largest museums, the most visited art museum in the world and a historic monument. A central landmark of Paris, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1st arrondissement...
He paid short visits to Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...
and to Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....
, and exhibited in the Salon of 1831 a painting then called Les Bourgeois Flamands (Dutch Burghers), but also known as The Visit to the Burgomaster, subsequently purchased by Sir Richard Wallace
Richard Wallace, 1st Baronet
Sir Richard Wallace, 1st Baronet was an English art collector.He was the illegitimate son of Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, for whom he worked as secretary, and inherited his unentailed father's estates, and extensive collection of European art in 1871...
, in whose collection (at Hertford House, London) it is, with fifteen other examples of this painter. It was the first attempt in France in the particular genre which was destined to make Meissonier famous: microscopic painting miniature in oils. Working hard for daily bread at illustrations for the publishers Curmer, Hetzel and Dubocherhe, Meissonier also exhibited at the Salon of 1836 with Chess Player and the Errand Boy.
After some not very happy attempts at religious painting, he returned, under the influence of Chenavard, to the class of work he was born to excel in, and exhibited with much success the Game of Chess (1841), the Young Man playing the 'Cello (1842), Painter in his Studio (1843), The Guard Room, the Young Man looking at Drawings, the Game of Piquet (1845), and the Game of Bowls, works which show the finish and certainty of his technique, and assured his success.
After his Soldiers (1848) he began A Day in June, which was never finished, and exhibited A Smoker (1849) and Bravos (Les Bravi, 1852). In 1855 he touched the highest mark of his achievement with The Gamblers and The Quarrel (La Rixe), which was presented by Napoleon III
Napoleon III of France
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was the President of the French Second Republic and as Napoleon III, the ruler of the Second French Empire. He was the nephew and heir of Napoleon I, christened as Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte...
to the English Court. His triumph was sustained at the Salon of 1857, when he exhibited nine pictures, and drawings; among them the Young Man of the Time of the Regency, The Painter, The Shoeing Smith, The Musician, and A Reading at Diderot's. To the Salon of 1861 he sent The Emperor at Solferino, A Shoeing Smith, A Musician, A Painter, and M. Louis Fould; to that of 1864 another version of The Emperor at Solferino, and 1814. He subsequently exhibited A Gamblers' Quarrel (1865) and Desaix and the Army of the Rhine (1867).
Meissonier worked with elaborate care and a scrupulous observation of nature. Some of his works, as for instance his 1807, remained ten years in course of execution. To the great Exhibition of 1878
Exposition Universelle (1878)
The third Paris World's Fair, called an Exposition Universelle in French, was held from 1 May through to 10 November 1878. It celebrated the recovery of France after the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.-Construction:...
he contributed sixteen pictures: the portrait of Alexandre Dumas, fils
Alexandre Dumas, fils
Alexandre Dumas, fils was a French author and dramatist. He was the son of Alexandre Dumas, père, also a writer and playwright.-Biography:...
which had been seen at the Salon of 1877, Cuirassiers of 1805, A Venetian Painter, Moreau and his Staff before Hohenlinden, a Portrait of a Lady, the Road to La Salice, The Two Friends, The Outpost of the Grand Guard, A Scout, and Dictating his Memoirs. Thenceforward he exhibited less in the Salons, and sent his work to smaller exhibitions. Being chosen president of the Great National Exhibition in 1883, he was represented there by such works as The Pioneer, The Army of the Rhine, The Arrival of the Guests, and Saint Mark.
On the 24th of May 1884 an exhibition was opened at the Petit Gallery of Meissonier's collected works, including 146 examples. As president of the jury on painting at the Exhibition of 1889
Exposition Universelle (1889)
The Exposition Universelle of 1889 was a World's Fair held in Paris, France from 6 May to 31 October 1889.It was held during the year of the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, an event traditionally considered as the symbol for the beginning of the French Revolution...
he contributed some new pictures. In the following year the New Salon was formed (the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts), and Meissonier became its president. He exhibited there in 1890 his painting 1807; and in 1891, shortly after his death, his Barricade was displayed there.
A less well-known class of work than his painting is a series of etching
Etching is the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio in the metal...
s: The Last Supper, The Skill of Vuillaume the Lute Player, The Little Smoker, The Old Smoker, the Preparations for a Duel, Anglers, Troopers, The Reporting Sergeant, and Polichinelle, in the Hertford House collection. He also tried lithography
Lithography is a method for printing using a stone or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface...
, but the prints are now scarcely to be found. Of all the painters of the century, Meissonier was one of the most fortunate in the matter of payments. His Cuirassiers, now in the late duc d'Aumale's
Henri d'Orléans, duc d'Aumale
-Bibliophile:He was a noted collector of old manuscripts and books. His library remains at Chantilly.-Death:By his will of the June 3, 1884, however, he had bequeathed to the Institute of France his Chantilly estate, including the Château de Chantilly, with all the art-collection he had collected...
collection at Chantilly
Château de Chantilly
The Château de Chantilly is a historic château located in the town of Chantilly, France. It comprises two attached buildings; the Grand Château, destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt in the 1870s, and the Petit Château which was built around 1560 for Anne de Montmorency...
, was bought from the artist for £10,000, sold at Brussels for £11,000, and finally resold for £16,000.
Besides his genre portraits, he painted some others: those of Doctor Lefevre, of Chenavard, of Vanderbilt, of Doctor Guyon, and of Stanford. He also collaborated with the painter Français
François Louis Français , French painter, was born at Plombières-les-bains , and, on attaining the age of fifteen, was placed as office-boy with a bookseller....
in a picture of The Park at St Cloud.
In 1838 Meissonier married the sister of M. Steinheil, a painter. Meissonier was attached by Napoleon III to the imperial staff, and accompanied him during the campaign in Italy at the beginning of the war in 1870. During the siege of Paris
Siege of Paris
The Siege of Paris, lasting from September 19, 1870 – January 28, 1871, and the consequent capture of the city by Prussian forces led to French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the establishment of the German Empire as well as the Paris Commune....
in 1871 he was colonel of a regiment de marche, one of the improvised units thrown up in the chaos of the Franco-Prussian war
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...
. In 1840 he was awarded a third-class medal, a second-class medal in 1841, first-class medals in 1843 and 1844 and medals of honour at the great exhibitions. In 1846 he was appointed knight of the Légion d'honneur
The Legion of Honour, or in full the National Order of the Legion of Honour is a French order established by Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of the Consulat which succeeded to the First Republic, on 19 May 1802...
and promoted to the higher grades in 1856, 1867 (June 29), and 1880 (July 12), receiving the Grand Cross in 1889 (October 29).
He nevertheless cherished certain ambitions which remained unfulfilled. He hoped to become a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts
École des Beaux-Arts
École des Beaux-Arts refers to a number of influential art schools in France. The most famous is the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, now located on the left bank in Paris, across the Seine from the Louvre, in the 6th arrondissement. The school has a history spanning more than 350 years,...
, but the appointment he desired was never given to him. He also aspired to be chosen deputy or made senator, but he was not elected. In 1861 he succeeded Abel de Pujol as member of the Academy of Fine Arts. On the occasion of the centenary festival in honour of Michelangelo in 1875 he was the delegate of the Institute of France to Florence, and spoke as its representative. Meissonier was an admirable draughtsman upon wood, his illustrations to Les Conies Rémois (engraved by Lavoignat), to Lamartine's Fall of an Angel to Paul and Virginia, and to The French Painted by Themselves being among the best known. The leading engravers and etchers of France have been engaged upon plates from the works of Meissonier, and many of these plates command the highest esteem of collectors. Meissonier died in Paris on the 31st of January 1891.
When the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts was re-vitalized, in 1890, Ernest Meissonier was elected its first chairman, but he died soon; his successor was Puvis de Chavannes. The vice-president was Auguste Rodin
François-Auguste-René Rodin , known as Auguste Rodin , was a French sculptor. Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past...
His son, Jean Charles Meissonier, also a painter, was his father's pupil, and was admitted to the Légion d'honneur in 1889.
Works published up to 1901
- Alexandre, Histoire de la peinture militaire en France (Paris, 1891)
- Laurens, Notice sur Meissonier (Paris, 1892)
- Gréard, Meissonier (Paris and London, 1897)
- T. G. Dumas, Maîtres modernes (Paris, 1884)
- Ch. Formentin, Meissonier, sa vie—son œuvre (Paris, 1901)
- J. W. Mollett, Illustrated Biographies of Modern Artists: Meissonier (London, 1882)
- Marc Gotlieb, The plight of emulation: Ernest Meissonier and French salon painting(Princeton University Press, 1996) ISBN 0691043744, 9780691043746
- Ross King, The Judgment of Paris (Walker & Company, New York 2006) ISBN 0 8027 1466 8
- Patricia Mainardi, The end of the Salon: art and the state in the early Third Republic ( Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993) ISBN 0521432510