Meissonier, Ernest

Ernest Meissonier (French, 1815-1891)
The Halberdier
Oil on panel, 10 ¼ x 6 ¾ inches
Signed and dated lower left: E Meissonier 1851

Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (born February 21, 1815, Lyon, France—died January 31, 1891, Paris), French painter and illustrator of military and historical subjects, especially of Napoleonic battles.

Meissonier studied first under Jules Potier, then in the studio of Léon Cogniet. In his early years Meissonier spent much time making illustrations for the publishers Curmer and Hetzel, but beginning in 1834 (at age 19) he exhibited regularly at the French Salon, and he received the highest official honours from the middle of the 1840s onward.

Most of Meissonier’s paintings are on a small scale and are concerned with military subjects or with genre in a historical setting. Meissonier’s minute and scrupulous technique was largely derived from the study of Dutch painters of the 17th century, but the documentary approach of his preparatory study of costume and armour and of his detailed observation of nature (such as his systematic analysis of the movements of horses) links him with the 19th century. Among his major works are Napoleon III at Solferino (1863) and 1814 (1864), both of which celebrate heroic military campaigns, but he also captured the horrors of conflict in works such as Remembrance of Civil War (1848–49), which depicts the moment when the Parisian insurgents of 1848 were slaughtered on barracades by the Republican Guard.