Jean- Louis Meissonier Biography
Meissonier was born at Lyons but was taken to Paris at an early age.
A family friend introduced Meissonier to the much frequented studio of Leon Cogniet, where he began his professional career. For many years Meissonier had to earn his living by illustrating novels from an earlier time. During this period Meissonier studied Dutch painting and learned to work in very minute detail.
Then, in 1859 Meissonier was commissioned to paint the painting the "Battle of Solferino" (now in the Louvre). This was the beginning of a new series of paintings, which date from the Second Empire, and in which the artist undertook to celebrate the glories of the first Empire. Renouncing his small interiors and subjects of fantasy Meissonier tackled historical and open air subjects, movements of crowds and armies, and set himself the task of painting the great scenes of the imperial epoch. Meissonier became enormously popular and was frequently the object of scorn for his fellow artists, who were working with newer materials in newer modes of painting, especially those we recognize as "modernists."
Meissonier was immense1y successful with his trite and nigglingly detailed historical paintings and historical genre paintings (particularly scenes from the Napoleonic campaigns) and from the 1840s received the highest official honours, including the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour - he was the first painter to win this award. Astonishingly conceited as well as mean-spirited, Meissonier cultivated a huge white beard and liked to be photographed or painted in attitudes of fiercely profound thought, as in his self-portrait of 1889 in the Musée d’Orsay. Meissonier had a personal enmity for Courbet and may have been instrumental in inducing the government to impose a fine on him after the suppression of the Commune. Meissonier did his best paintings when he was at his least pretentious.
His landscape paintings are attractive descriptive exercises and his Rue de la Martellerie (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 1848), which shows a corpse-strewn street during the revolutionary events of 1848, has genuine pathos and impressed Delacroix. There are large collections of Meissonier paintings in the Musée d’Orsay and in the Wallace Collection, London.