JEAN LOUIS ERNEST MEISSONIER - A TRAVELERRegular price €0 Save €0
JEAN LOUIS ERNEST MEISSONIER (1815-1891)
UN VOYAGEUR (A TRAVELER)
signed with monogram EM
with the Vente Meissonier 1893 wax seal (on the reverse)
oil on panel
17x11 cm (6,7x4,3 inch)
The Artist's studio sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris,
12-17 May 1893, lot 171;
Faerber & Maison Ltd, London 1972;
Private collection Sweden
STUDY OF A HORSE AND RIDER
oil on panel, 22,6 x 10 cm, signed EM
Sold: 32500 GBP (incl buyers premium)
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LE TROMPETTE DE 1807
oil on panel, 22,9 x 11,4 cm, not signed
Sold: 17500 USD (incl buyers premium)
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Some artists become famous after their death. For others, the fate is reversed. Ernest Meissonier (1815–1891) was one of the most internationally successful and celebrated artists of his time – but became almost completely forgotten in the 20th century. Not until now is the name of Meissonier starting to be re-introduced to its rightful place in art history, and this sketch is a rare example of why.
“–All of us will be forgotten, but Meissonier will be remembered" the painter Eugène Delacroix once said in a conversation with poet Charles Baudelaire. Back then, it was unthinkable to see Meissonier as anything else than one of the most famous and beloved artists alive. His paintings fetched the highest prices and audiences flocked to see his works on exhibitions. Through reproductions and prints the fame of Meissonier spread even wider, and when new major works were exhibited newspapers around Europe were quick to report. Napoleon III employed him as a member of the imperial court to paint military victories and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who also collected his works, said that Meissonier was “One of the greatest glories of the entire world”. John Ruskin, one of the most influential art critics of his day, was "marvelling at Meissonier's manual dexterity and eye for fascinating minutiae". So, what was it that captivated the 19th century audience in the art of Meissonier?
Formally, Meissonier belonged to the academic tradition and is mainly known for his history paintings, motifs of Napoleonic battles and victories, genre pieces and some portraits. He was both a painter and a sculptor, and also an accomplished engraver. But beyond the motifs and techniques there were other, more intangible qualities to his art. Like no one else Meissonier could produce almost cinematic artworks filled with bombastic happenings, calm poetry or psychologically precise portraits; all balancing between an extraordinary sense of detail and striking compositions. He is often compared as an artistic parallel to writer Alexandre Dumas in his unique ability to convey stories of pre-Revolutionary France, with all its honourable chivalry and heroic tales.
Many of his motifs, especially the military scenes, were of great emotional value to the 19th century audience and filled with symbols and references that have long lost their meaning. Meissonier knew how to set the scene and boil down to the perfect moment in a story where it reached its full dramatic potential. Weather he painted battle scenes or portraits, Meissoniers artworks had a curious ability to make the viewer submerged into the scene. Technically, what first seems like an extremely realistic and slightly formal way of painting is on a closer inspection shaped by fast, playful and almost carelessly performed strokes of paint that make the motifs vibrate of life. His tendency to only paint rather small formats also provided a kind of intimacy even to his more pompous sceneries.
The man is drinking bottoms up, holding the glass wearing what is likely a brown riding glove in leather. Note how the movement of the mouth is suggested with just a few strokes.
This sketch here is an interesting fragment of how this master worked. It was sold just two years after his death in 1893 at the great Meissonier studio sale at Galerie Georges Petit in Paris as lot number 171 and is painted directly on a wooden panel. On the back there are two old labels and the wax seal from the “Vente Meissonier 1893” that can be found on several other works sold at the same occasion. In what is probably a contemporary handwriting it is described as “Etude d'un voyageur devant un Cabaret [...] sa direction”, translated to “Study of a traveller in front of a cabaret, his direction”. (The term “cabaret” possibly refers to the tube-shaped bag on the back of the saddle.)
To the left a wax seal from another painting sold at the 1893 Meissonier sale, the same one used for the seal of this sketched seen on the right.
The interesting backside with the wax seal from the “Vente Meissonier 1893”.
What we see is the back of a man seated on a horse, who is barely visible through just a few strokes in black. He is dressed in a green riding outfit wearing boots, gloves and a hat. In his left hand he is holding a glass from which he drinks, bottoms up. Around him, in an almost halo-like manner, strokes of white and pale yellow are added to suggest light and compare the depth of the colours. The grain of the wooden panel also creates a beautiful backdrop, perfectly matching the rustic nature of the subject.
In these few strokes of paint we see how Meissonier built up colour, texture, movement and light in order to create that special energy that is so characteristic for his art. Effortlessly going from thick layers of paint to thin and barely visible lines show the confident fluency that only a true master can possess.
The texture and color of the green riding coat is masterfully painted out, including the seams that are cleverly added to increase the sense of detail.
We can just make out riding boots and the outlines of the horse. The foot, slightly angled upwards, is important for the composition since clarify the movement and position of the rider. To the right the simple yet elegant initials of Ernest Meissonier.
It is currently unknown what specific painting this sketch belong to, but as interest in Meissonier grows more research and comparisons can provide new knowledge in the future. Till then, this sketch remains a fascinating fragment of the working process behind one of the most successful yet forgotten artists of Western art history.
Ernest Meissonier: rétrospective (catalogue), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, 25 mars-27 juin 1993, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Pairs 1993
The plight of emulation: Ernest Meissonier and French salon painting, Marc J. Gotlieb, Princeton, N.J. : Princeton Univ. Press, cop. 1996
Ernst Meissonier: master in his genre, Constance Cain Hungerford, Cambridge University Press 1999