1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Meissonier, Jean Louis Ernest

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MEISSONIER, JEAN LOUIS ERNEST (1815-1891), French painter, was born at Lyons on the 21st of February 181 5. 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, he was admitted to Léon Cogniet's studio. He paid short visits to Rome and to Switzerland, and exhibited in the Salon of 1831 a picture then called “ Les Bourgeois Flarnands ” (“ Dutch Burghers ”), but also known as “ The Visit to the Burgomaster, ” subsequently purchased by Sir Richard Wallace, 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 Dubocher-he also exhibited at the Salon of 1836 the “ 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), “The 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, ” whichzwas never hnished, 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. 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 Shceing 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 he contributed sixteen pictures: the portrait of Alexandre Dumas which had been seen at the Salon of 1877, “ Cuirassiers of 1805, ” “ A Venetian Painter, ” “ Moreau and his Stan' 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 he contributed some new pictures. In the following year the New Salon was formed (the National Society of Fine Arts), and Meissonier was president. He exhibited there in ISQO his picture “ 1807 ”; and in 1891, shortly after his death, his"' Barricade ” was displayed there. A less well-known class of work than his paintingfis a series of etchings: “ 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, 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'Auma1e's collection at Chantilly, was bought from the artist for £I0, QO0, sold at Brussels for £II, OOO, 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 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 and at the beginning of the war in 187O. During the siege of Paris in 1871 he was colonel of a marching regiment. 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 Legion of Honour and promoted to the higher grades in 1856, 1867 (June 29), and ISSO (July 12), receiving the Grand Cross in 1889 (Oct. 29). He nevertheless cherished certain ambitions which remained unfulfilled. He hoped to become a professor at the Ecole des Beaux Arts but the appointment he desired was never given to him. On various occasions. too, he 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 Contes Rérnois (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 21st of January 1891. His' son, Jean Charles Meissonier, also a painter, was his father's pupil, and was admitted to the Legion of Honour in 1889.

See Alexandre, Histoire de la peinture rnilitaire en France (Paris, 1891); Laurens, Notice sur Meissonier (Paris, 1892); Gréard, Meissanier (Paris and London, 1897); T. G. Dumas, Maitres rnodernes (Paris, 1884); Ch. Formentin, Meissonier, sa vie-son rem/re (Paris 1901); ]. W. Mollett, Illustrated Biographies of Modern Artists Meissonief (London, 1882).

(H. Fr.)