The votes are now tallied in the poll about the highest priced artist during the 19th century. In the voting, Bouguereau edged out Meissonier 92 to 78. Thanks to everyone for participating.
Bouguereau may be more dominant in the recent academic auction revival, and he may be better represented in American collections, and he may be more accessible to modern viewers, but the right answer is Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891).
Click the image above for a BIG enlargement.
There are at least two published sources for this claim. One is The Studios of Paris, by John Milner (Yale University Press, 1988). Mr. Milner documented the astronomical prices (see the Thursday's post) and said “Meissonier became the most expensive painter of later nineteenth-century France.”
The other book is called The Judgment of Paris by Ross King (2006). Mr. King contrasts Meissonier with Manet during the pivotal period in Paris, as the independent movement really took hold. King’s book is insightful, rich in description, and well-researched.
King says that “No artist in France could command Meissonier’s extravagant prices or excite so much public attention. Each year at the Paris Salon—the annual art exhibition in the Palais des Champs-Elysees—the space before Meissonier’s paintings grew so thick with spectators that a special policeman was needed to regulate the masses as they pressed forward to inspect his latest success.” (from Charles Yriarte, 1898)
For those of you unfamiliar with Meissonier, he produced small and exquisitely painted genre scenes from the prerevolutionary times and equestrian military subjects from the Napoleonic era. The Metropolitan Museum owns his “Friedland,” showing a cavalry charge through the tall grass, but that’s not really typical of his smaller, more intimate pieces. He disdained the modern world of the 19th century, preferring to set his scenes in the 18th and 17th centuries.
Many of his genre scenes depict gentlemen in taverns or scholars reading books. The characters seem plucked from the pages of “The Three Musketeers” —which, by the way, was the most commercially successful book of 19th century France.
There much to learn from Meissonier’s impeccable craftsmanship. For art historians there is a great deal of scholarship that needs to be done. Take note, Ph.D candidates! I hope that a museum will do a retrospective, or that an English publisher will consider producing a new book on his art.
You can see a gallery of 27 Meissonier images at Art Renewal, link.
There are two excellent books in French: Meissonier: trois siecles d’histoire, by Philippe Guilloux (1980) and an exhibition catalog Ernest Meissonier: Retrospective, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, 1993.
In this video, author Ross King talks about Meissonier’s dominance of his own times and his obscurity in ours, link.
Thanks to Micah of Bearded Roman, who introduced this topic, link.