Thursday, January 7, 2010

NAPOLEONIC SUBJECTS





Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, 1815-1891
French painter
From Wikipedia

Self-portrait ca. 1865
From Wikipedia
Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier had one of the more remarkable artistic careers in nineteenth century France. Although largely self-taught, he became the highest paid painter in the second half of the century, an accomplishment that stems from persistence, congeniality, and the capacity to understand both the strengths and limitations of his work. Meissonier was born in Lyon on 21 February 1815, just as the Napoleonic era was coming to a close. His father, a dye merchant, moved the family to Paris three years later. By the early 1830s, Meissonier’s natural inclination for art led him to study very briefly with Jules Potier, and then with Léon Cogniet for a period of five months. His primary teachers, however, were the seventeenth and eighteenth century Dutch, Flemish and French painters at the Louvre, particularly the still life and genre painters.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Meissonier’s first submission to the Salon, in 1834, was a small painting called Flemish Burghers which was essentially a costume piece featuring three sober-looking gentlemen clad in traditional seventeenth century clothing. The play of light and shadow, as well as the delicately rendered tabletop still life, echoed the works of painters such as Gerard Dou or Gabriel Metsu, whose paintings were attracting increasing attention from a new generation of still life artists. In addition, Flemish Burghers appealed to the bourgeois taste for historical costume dramas. The critical and popular acclaim was overwhelming; the Société des Amis des Arts purchased the work for 100 francs, and Meissonier’s career was launched before he reached the age of 20.
Despite this early success, Meisonnier’s painting did not bring immediate financial security. Rather, his primary source of reliable income in these years was the design of wood engravings for book illustrations. Today, books such as Léon Curmer’s edition of J-H. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul et Virginie (Paris 1838) are sought after precisely because of those illustrations.
(Rehs GALLERIES INC.)
He first exhibited at the Salon in 1835 and became a regular exhibitor throughout the 1840's and 1850's showing various non-military scenes. However, these pictures were enough to establish his reputation and he was invited by Napoleon 111 to join the Imperial Staff on the expedition to Italy in 1859. Inspired by what he witnesses, Meissonier began to paint military scenes from the war such as The Emperor at Solferino, which was shown at the 1864 Salon, and The Emperor and his staff.
Six years later, France went to war with Prussia and the emperor once again turned to Meissonier for his services. While initially accepting the offer, the artist soon became discouraged by the growing defeats of the army and declined to become further involved but not before narrowly escaping being besieged in Metz. It was at this time that he developed his penchant for Napoleonic subjects as a way of glorifying France's military past in the wake of the disastrous defeat in 1871 and the subsequent horrors of the Paris Commune.
(military-prints.com)


Ruins of Tuileries Palace after the Commune of 1871
Oil on canvas, 1877
Compiegne Museum (France)
From ARC


By the age of 31, he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur; in 1861 he was elected to the Institut and in 1889 became Président du Jury international des Beaux-Arts. His ambition was to combine the two greatest achievements of the golden age of Dutch painting: lively naturalism and light. In his small genre scenes and in his drawings and sketches for monumental works, he succeeded admirably.
Modern critics are not so sure about the merits of his large scale works. Meissonier’s work was eagerly acquired by Napoleon III and his entourage, as well as many foreign collectors. And he repaid his patron by his unswerving loyalty to the revived Empire. This brought him enemies as well as friends: Baudelaire was a detractor and Meissonier was (among others) responsible for the exile in 1873 of Courbet; meanwhile, Delacroix, Odilon Redon and van Gogh were admirers. And, a little surprisingly perhaps, he included Renoir and Sisley in the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts which he founded in 1889.
(Timothy Hobart The Art Business)
Inspired by the first Napoleon, Meissonier developed the idea of creating a cycle of pictures dramatising the great soldier from his rise to his fall. The five pictures would each depict a moment in the emperor's life during the years 1796, 1807, 1810, 1814 and 1815, but in fact only three canvases were finished. In his picture, 1807, the artist depicted a moment during the final phase of the battle of Friedland when the Emperor and his staff reviewed the 12th Regiment of Cuirassiers as they charged past. For 1814, he arranged for horses to be marched back and forth in snow and mud so that he could sketch - and became quite ill in the process. In the picture, a grim-faced Napoleon leads his disheveled troops in retreat to avoid confrontation with the enemy. These pictures established him as perhaps one of the greatest military painters France had ever seen and he was a major source of inspiration to Detaille and de Neuville before he died in Paris on 31st January, 1891.
(military-prints.com)


Friedland, 1807
Metropolitan Museum of Art
From worldvisitguide


Sketch for ‘FRIEDLAND, 1807’
Oil on mahogany panel
From Timothy Hobart The Art Business


This explosive little sketch is a study for the charging horse of the central cuirassier in Meissonier’s masterpiece, ‘Friedland – 1807’, which he worked on from the 1850s until its exhibition in 1875, and which now hangs in pride of place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The Battle of Friedland (14 June1807) was one of Napoleon’s most splendid and decisive victories. After initial success by the Russians under Count Levin Bennigsen against the French flank, Napoleon realised that the Russians had cramped themselves within a bend of the River Alle. He therefore launched converging attacks in the evening, taking Bennigsen by surprise and forcing the Russians back over four improvised bridges across the Alle. Three of the bridges were destroyed by French artillery. There were some 25,000 Russian dead and wounded, losses which convinced Tsar Alexander I to sue for peace (at Tilsit), thus ending the Third Coalition.
Of the various elements contributing to success at Friedland, Meissonier chose to symbolize the French triumph by depicting Napoleon and his general staff saluting a regiment of cuirassiers (armoured cavalry) galloping past and on into the fray. These proud descendants of medieval knights (such as Bertrand de Guesclin chevalier sans peur et sans reproche), epitomised the rebirth of French self-esteem with their valour and their gallantry: retroceder nescit (‘he knows no retreat’).
The horse in this little sketch (above) is a worthy mount for his master. He seems to snort with indignation at some proposed affront to France’s pride. With eyes rolling and nostrils flaring, this marvellous animal is presented as every bit as keen to join in the battle as the cuirassier himself. Placed on the panel in such a way as to give a sense that he is practically jumping out of the confines of panel and frame, the precisely drawn details of the tackle and the areas of mahogany left bare are themselves almost as important as the painted parts. A small masterpiece in itself, the present sketch combines the artist’s passion for detail and his uncanny ability to give every brushstroke a sense of life.
(Timothy Hobart The Art Business)
From the 1850s to the 1870s, Meissonier was fascinated with the genre paintings of seventeenth-century Netherlands and Flanders and frequently chose as his subject the life of soldiers from the period. Because he believed that a painting grew outward from its details, Meissonier went to great lengths to acquire authentic costumes and accessories and made minutely detailed studies of these items before working them into finished compositions. His technical mastery and his insistence on accuracy are evident in the watercolor shown here, in which every element of the figure's costume, from the lace collar to the texture of the leather boots and the gleam of the spurs, is exactingly rendered."
(The Essence of Line)


Cuirassier, étude pour
Crédit photographique RMN
From MUZEO COLLECTION


Etude pour l'empereur Napoléon Ier à cheval
Crédit photographique RMN
From MUZEO COLLECTION


Etude de cheval
crédit photographique RMN
From prenoms.com


Etude de cheval
crédit photographique RMN
From prenoms.com


Cuirassier en selle, étud...
crédit photographique RMN
From prenoms.com


Deux cuirassiers, étude
crédit photographique RMN
From prenoms.com


The French Campaign
Napoleon and his army back from Soissons
After the Battle of Laon
Oil on canvas, 1861
Musee d'Orsay (Paris, France)
From ARC


The French Campaign (detail)
From kunst fuer alle


The French Campaign on display
From Enigma911's photostream at flickr


Jena
Oil on canvas,
Private collection
From ARC


A masterful depiction of a Napoleonic battle, a celebrated author, a Waiters' Race, paintings that saved the Forest of Fontainebleau, costumed conversationalists -- it's "Vive La France" at the Frick Art & Historical Center, which has pulled out all the stops for a weekend celebration of things French.
The inspiration is an exceptional painting, the last major work by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891), which depicts the Emperor Napoleon on horseback watching his armies defeat the Prussians at the Battle of Jena (above).
"1806, Jena" arrived in Pittsburgh five years after the artist's death, was exhibited in the first Carnegie Annual of 1896 (now the Carnegie International), and was purchased by Charles Lockhart, who co-founded Standard Oil Co. and was president of the Lockhart Iron and Steel Co., among other business ventures.
The painting is thought to have been the most prestigious and expensive painting in Pittsburgh at the time. It remained in the Lockhart family and dropped below the radar of art historians, re-surfacing as a loan to the Frick's critically praised 1997 exhibition "Collecting in the Gilded Age: Art Patronage in Pittsburgh, 1890-1910."
In 2007, the Richard D. Edwards Family (Mrs. Edwards is Lockhart's great-granddaughter) presented the painting to the Frick, where it has debuted after restoration of the painting and its original ornately carved and gilded frame by art conservator Christine Daulton.
Meissonier was fastidious about the intricate details and historical accuracy of his paintings, collecting antiques and costumes as reference. To paint a winter campaign, the artist plowed his country estate and powdered it with flour to capture a naturalistic snowfall effect on canvas.
(Mary Thomas, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at postgazette.com)


Relief after the battle
oil on panel
Private collection
Original uploader Fra.caracciolo at en.wikipedia


Study of Horses' Legs
Sepia Drawing, pencil and brush
heightened with Chinese white on buff paper
From Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Campaign
Oil on canvas,
Private collection
From ARC


General Desaix and the Peasant
Oil on canvas, 1867
Private collection
From ARC


Napoleon and his Staff
Oil on panel, 1868
Wallace Collection (London, UK)
From ARC


Painted in 1868, Napoleon wears the uniform of the Chasseurs (above) and is followed by his generals and an Egyptian Marmaluke (extreme left) Added, it was said, at the express wish of Lord Hereford who purchased the painting. It is now in the Wallace Collection.
(MILITARY PRINT COMPANY)


The Halt
Oil on canvas, 1870
Private collection
From ARC


Le mémorial du Siège de Paris, 1871
The Siege of Paris
Photo RMN - H. Lewandowski
From L'HISTOIRE PAR L'IMAGE


Courtyard of the Artist's Studio, 1877
watercolor over graphite
Collection: The Walters Art Museum
From The Essence of Line


Writing about Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier in the late nineteenth century, the artist and critic Harry Watrous stated:
"Meissonier's pictures are as nearly perfect technically as human skill can make them, because they are masterful in their knowledge and because they are true in appearance. . . . I heard an art student state, with the conviction born of a few month's study, that the works of Meissonier . . . were 'rot', but that student will know better someday, and perhaps the best way for any student to become disabused of such a weird idea is to study Meissonier's studies . . . (they show) the seriousness of the man, and his love for the real--the actual presence before him.
Courtyard of the Artist's Studio (above) was not a study for a large-scale painting; rather, Meissonier conceived it as a work of art in its own right, and in fact it was published in a folio of images of similar subjects in 1881. Nonetheless, this beautiful watercolor clearly communicates the reasons for Meissonier's renown during his lifetime, particularly his painstaking attention to historically accurate costumes and settings, which characterizes such paintings as The Jovial Topper (1865) and The End of the Game of Cards (1865), both in the collection of the Walters Art Museum.
(The Essence of Line)


The End of the Game of Cards
Oil on panel, 1856
Walters Art Gallery (Baltimore, USA)
From ARC



1 comment:

GREAT MILITARY BATTLES said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.