Sunday, November 17, 2013

Meissonier on painting from Nature


Ernest Messonier (1815-1891), painted many of his small oil compositions directly from live models in authentic costumes. His paintings commanded the highest prices of any artist in the nineteenth century.

Ernest Meissonier, Standing Man
He had this to say about painting directly from the observation of reality:

"I should have done more perhaps to cultivate my memory. But I infinitely prefer going straight to Nature, the fountainhead. If you want to prevent my consulting Nature, you must shut me up, without any model. If there was a looking-glass in the room I should pose before it, and paint from that. Nature is my favorite and indispensable slave. There is no room for conjecture in my painting, no doubt about the reality of my conception, no shuffling. There it is."

Rembrandt van Rijn, Carcass of Beef, 1657 

Meissonier was a great admirer of Rembrandt:

"Rembrandt, there was a perfect artist ! His Boeuf Écorché in the Louvre ought to be set up as a model to all painters. What unerring precision of touch throughout the frenzy of the handling! Each tone falls into its right place under the impetus. It is painted with fire. Freedom and truth, these are the two most admirable things on earth!"----
from Meissonier, His Life and Art by Octave Gréard
Previous posts mentioning Meissonier
Retrospective catalog (in French, all color repros): Ernest Meissonier: Retrospective : Musee des beaux-arts de Lyon, 25 mars-27 juin 1993 (French Edition)
Ross King's recent book comparing Meissonier and Manet: The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism

4 comments:

Erik Bongers said...

It's surprising that Meissonier admired Rembrandt and this particular painting so much. Centuries before the term was invented, Rembrandt clearly adds some expressionistic touches on top of nature. The roughness and heaviness of the carcass surpasses the mere observation.

I assume, without him explicitly stating so, that it is this extra 'dimension' that Meissonier was in awe of.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

There are some wonderful small paintings by Meissonier in the Wallace Collection in London.

Also I highly recommend reading "The Judgement of Paris" by Ross King to learn more about his approach to painting and his standing with Parisian art scene in the middle of the 19th century.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Katherine, I agree. Ross King's book is the best introduction to Meissonier and to the world of Salon painting in general.

Erik, yes, Meissonier liked that sculptural, energetic quality of Rembrandt, and he disparaged Ingres' paintings for being too slick and smooth (though he praised Ingres' drawings from life). Meissonier's paintings look tight from a way off, but they're quite painterly and energetic up close.

etc, etc said...

There's not a doubt in my mind that as an almost universal maxim such ardent fidelity to nature stunts the imagination and produces at best average compositions.