Thursday, February 16, 2012

Meissonier's "The Brawl"

Ernest Meissonier’s painting “The Brawl” (La Rixe) was the star of the 1855 Paris Salon. 

According to a description from a 1904 book, “The scene represents a quarrel in a tavern between two bravos. The period is the early part of the seventeenth century. Tables and chairs have been overturned, and cards, the probably cause of the trouble, lie scattered on the floor. 

"The assailant has drawn his dagger and struggles to free himself from two companions, as they with difficulty prevent his rushing upon his adversary, who, restrained by a third peacemaker, attempts to draw his sword. 

"The violent movement, the fierce struggle of the angry men, the intense expression, not only of the faces but of each limb and muscle, are powerfully rendered by the artist, who, it is said, painted this stirring scene to silence the critics who had declared him unable to depict action.”
The painting is 18 x 22 inches and is in the Royal Collection 


enb said...

Great Post.
Im a huge fan of his work. His painting "Friedland"
at the Met Museum had me absolutely captivated as child, and continues to do so today.
Easy to see why;

Tom Hart said...

It's funny that upon my initial viewing I envisioned a grand-sized canvas, only to read that it's much smaller. Still,it packs a huge wallup!

James Gurney said...

Tom, you're right -- it's small, but it's large for Meissonier, whose Salon paintings were often as tiny as 8x10 inches. They had to post a guard next to his paintings to keep his fans from brawling and pushing each other! It seems you can make a big impression at exhibition with either a huge painting or a tiny one.

ENB, Friedland blew me away, too. It's unbelievably detailed, and even larger. The recent book "Judgment of Paris" by Ross King describes the story of its creation.

Vicki said...

I can kind of see why the critics said he didn't do action. Both these paintings have a combination of stillness and activity. In "Friedland", the action seems to be all in the details. The composition is like a landscape, with the broad horizontal line cutting across the middle of the painting, even if it IS the tops of the troops, and the horses are furiously galloping in the foreground. The first glance, from a distance, it would seem to me, looks quite still.
In "The Brawl", the stillness is in the lack of busyness in the setting. The wall behind the brawlers and the floor are almost devoid of details that would add to the activity. All the action is concentrated in the tension among the various actors, not in the scene itself.
This is not a criticism. I think it is a marvelous thing to combine stillness with violent action. Maybe it shows that it is humans who bring violence to the scene; it is not an integral part of the world.

James Gurney said...

Vicki, I know what you mean. I'd love to see how N.C. Wyeth would have handled this. I have a few quibbles with it myself, mainly in the proportions of the arms and legs and in the 3D overlap of the two figures on the right. There doesn't seem to be enough room for the peacemaker's knee. Meissonier definitely had specific models and costumes, but I wonder if he had them all act it out together to work out the spacing and staging.

Will Kelly said...

Hi Mr. Gurney!
This is kind of unrelated to your blog post, but I wanted to let you know that I'll be attending the IMC at Amherst this year, and I'm hoping you'll still be lecturing!! I am really looking forward to meeting you & learning all I can. Hope to see you then!


James Gurney said...

Hey, Will,
Look forward to meeting you at IMC. Yes, I'll probably be doing two lectures, and one of them will be a brand new one on "worldbuilding." I'll give a bunch of ideas about how to turn your paintings and rough ideas into a comprehensive fantasy or science fiction universe. And I'm making sure to have the time to go around and meet each student and see what they're working on.

Will Kelly said...

That sounds amazing! Can't wait... June really seems far away now!

Lee Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Smith said...

What struck me about this painting is that the combatants look like the same person. I also like to think he had the model for the brawler on the left hang on to a rope attached to the wall behind him to give the appearance of leaning. It would be impossible to stand in that position without falling over.

etc, etc said...

painted this stirring scene to silence the critics who had declared him unable to depict action

I think the problem is he was generally a dullard at composition, and this painting attempts to mask that problem with the subject matter.

Carlos A Soto said...

Hey where is the "like" button on this thing!? Just kidding. Well I'm glad Mr. Gurney you post these paintings. There are so many paintings and artists I've learned about from your post and it's wonderful. The town I live in seems dead to the arts and B&Noble's art section gets smaller every year. So thanks, it's great that people like you give art a breathe of fresh air.