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Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, 1815-1891

Courtyard of the Artist's Studio

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

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.1

Courtyard of the Artist's Studio 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 1881.2 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 (WAM 37.151 and 37.149).

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.3 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.

Meissonier was born in Lyons in 1815 and settled in Paris in 1832, when he entered the studio of Léon Cogniet (1794-1880). Throughout his career, he devoted himself to genre painting, and his early works won medals at the Salons of 1840, 1841, 1843, and 1848. By the 1850s, he was widely perceived as the leading genre painter of his day. His critical renown, however, came from a Napoleonic battle painting exhibited at the Salon of 1864 entitled 1814, The Campaign for France (Musée d'Orsay, Paris). In the years that followed, Meissonier produced a series of paintings commemorating Napoleonic battles. After 1865, however, the artist largely withdrew from public life. Retiring to his studio at Poissy, he produced small-scale paintings of soldiers and brigands in seventeenth-century costume. It was in the courtyard at Poissy that Meissonier posed the model for the work shown here. Susan E. Ross

1. H. Watrous, "Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891)," in The Art Experience in Late Nineteenth-Century America, ed. H. Barbara Weinberg (New York, 1976), 93-94.

2 Oeuvre complète de E. Meissonier (Paris, 1881), no. 34. The title for the work is given as Sous le balcon.

3. For a discussion of Meissonier's compositional technique, see C. Hungerford, Ernest Meissonier, Master in His Genre (Cambridge, 1999), 38-40 and 88-90. For an in-depth analysis of Meissonier's commitment to genre painting, see M. Gotlieb, The Plight of Emulation: Ernest Meissonier and French Salon Painting (Princeton, 1996).

Medium: watercolor over graphite underdrawing heightened with white gouache on cream, moderately thick, smooth wove paper
Dimensions: height: 34.5 cm, width: 19 cm.
Date: 1877
Category: historical
Subject: artist | profile
Inscriptions and Markings: "JF Meissonier / 1877" in brown watercolor in lower left
Exhibition History: A Discerning Eye: Nineteenth-century Drawings and Watercolors, Academy of the Arts, Easton, MD, 1998-99; French Master Drawings, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1997-98; French Masterworks on Paper, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1992
Bibliography: Gruelle, Richard B. Notes: Critical and Biographical: Collection of W.T. Walters. Indianapolis: Bowles. 1895.: p. 178. Collection of W.T. Walters: Pictures. Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery. 1884.: p. 97. Walters Art Gallery. Catalogue of Paintings. Baltimore: Lord Baltimore. 1929.: p. 146. Walters Art Gallery. Catalogue of Paintings. Baltimore: Lord Baltimore. 1909.: p. 159. Walters Art Gallery. The Walters Collection. Baltimore: Friedenwald Co.. 1903.: p. 114.
Related Works: Print from the drawing, Walters Art Museum (93.144)
Provenance: William T. Walters (1819-1894), Baltimore, before 1884.
Collection: The Walters Art Museum
Credit Line: Acquired by William T. Walters
Object Number: WAM 37.947