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Ernest Meissonier

(1815-1891)

Aliases: Ernest Meissonier, Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier

Painter, Etcher, Lithographer, Sculptor, Illustrator

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Biography

(born 1815 Lyon, France; died 1891) French painter. Considered one of the most prominent genre and military painters in 19th Century France, Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier studied with Jules Potier, and afterwards under the tutelage of Leon Cogniet. He achieved success early on, winning medals at the Salons of 1840, 1841, 1843, and 1848. His paintings prior to 1850 were primarily interior scenes with figures; however afterwards he shifted to grander exterior scenes with multiple figure compositions. Meissonier paid careful attention to detail in his works: painting often from sculptures of figures and horses modeled in wax or clay, a fact which was only widely known after his death when they were exhibited along with his paintings. Most of his studies were bronzed by the Siot de Caouville Foundry. In the 1850s through the 1870s he became fascinated by 17th century Dutch and Flemish genre painting; he chose not to paint according to 19th century tastes but instead chose a style reminiscent of the 18th century, painting from authentic period costumes and props. His most well known works were a series of paintings of Napoleon’s military campaigns, through which, like his genre paintings, he developed an acute eye for detail. In 1865 Meissonier became reclusive; retiring to a studio in Poissy where he focused on small scale military and genre paintings. In 1890 he was the President d’honneur at Salon de la Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and they had a retrospective of his work shortly after his death in 1893. Meissonier’s work is featured in such museums as the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; museums in Bordeaux and Lille, France have some of the casts he used for study.

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