The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Meissonier, Jean Louis Ernest

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MEISSONIER, Jean Louis Ernest, zhŏṅ loo-ē ėr-nā mā-sō-nyā, French painter: b. Lyons, France, 21 Feb. 1815; d Paris, 31 Jan. 1891. He came to Paris in early youth and entered the studio of Cogniet, meanwhile forming his style on the Dutch masters as represented in the Louvre. He first attracted attention by his illustrations of the Bible, Bossuet's ‘Universal History,’ ‘Orlando Furioso,’ ‘Paul and Virginia,’ etc. His earliest paintings in genre to be exhibited in the Salon were ‘The Little Messenger’ and ‘The Chess Player’ (1836). His reputation grew rapidly on the successive appearance of ‘The Monk’ (1838); ‘The English Doctor’ (1839); ‘The Chess Party’ (1841). The times of Louis XIV and Louis XV with all the accessory richness and variety of costumes, weapons and domestic luxury, began to find in him their most successful delineator. In the many canvases which he produced in this narrow department of genre he showed a keen and strong, but not too florid, power of characterization, which was accompanied with a marvelous technique in the handling of stuffs, metals, etc. But modern history eventually claimed his attention and he found a congenial field for the exercise of his special gifts in the campaigns of Napoleon. His pictures were often small, but finished with minute and delicate virtuosity, a good example of which may be seen in his ‘Cuirassiers of 1805’; but he is perhaps less successful in large canvases and elaborate figure compositions than in his small paintings. Among his most famous pictures of the Napoleonic cycle are ‘Napoleon I with his Staff’ and ‘Napoleon III at Solferino’ (1864); ‘Napoleon I at Friedland’ (1875), now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York. In his latter days he painted Venetian scenery and architectural views with his usual dash, thoroughness and oriinality. In his works he shows the best quahties of the Dutch school with all its life-like expression, truthfulness and spirit combined with the delicacy of French sentiment and abandon. His water colors, etchings and lithographs bear admirable witness to his versatility and vigorous industry. His pictures have always fetched a high price, ‘Friedland or 1807’ having been sold for $60,000, a sum scarcely disproportionate to that given for smaller canvases. He is to be looked upon as the founder of the new school of military painters represented by his son Jean Charles Meissonier and Edouard Detaille, his most illustrious pupil. Consult Claretie, ‘Meissonier’ (1881); Larroumet, ‘Meissonier’ (1893).