Monday, March 7, 2016

Meissonier's Portrait of the Sergeant

In his 1914 biography, Frederic Cooper describes Portrait of a Sergeant by Jean-Louis Meissonier (1815-1891). 

Meissonier, Portrait of a Sergeant, 1874, Kunsthalle Hamburg
Height: 73 cm (28.7 in). Width: 62 cm (24.4 in).

"What a magnificent collection of different degrees of attention: that of the portrait painter as he studies his model standing in front of him on the pavement, in his finest uniform and his finest pose,"

"that of the model intent only upon doing nothing to disturb his ultra-martial bearing, his gaze menacing, staring, fixed...



"...that of the spectators, some of them drawing near, fascinated, another who casts an amused glance at the picture as he passes by, with some sarcastic remark on his lips; another who no doubt has just been looking, and for the moment, with pipe between his teeth, is thinking of something else as he sits on a bench with his back to the wall and his legs extended in front of him."


"Meissonier rediscovered the decent folk of that period, which was not made up exclusively of mighty lords and fallen women, and of which we get, through Chardin, a glimpse on its honest, settled bourgeois side."

"Meissonier introduces us into modest interiors, with woodwork of sober gray, furniture without gilding, the homes of worthy folk, simple and substantial, who read and smoke and work, look over prints and etchings, or copy them, or chat sociably, with elbows on table, separated only by a bottle brought out from behind the faggots."
----
Jean-Louis Meissonier, 1914, free online book by Frederic Cooper
Jean-Louis Meissonier on Wikipedia
Portrait of the Sergeant on Wikipedia Commons


13 comments:

HNK said...

I was waiting for new posts in "Academic Paintings" label, and it suddenly appeared! I like Meissonier's works. May I ask: do you know some websites/galleries that show a lot of his works or of anybody in general?

David Webb said...

If you look carefully, you can even make out the graffiti on the wall.

indigo wendigo said...

Wonderful characters! I've been reading the autobiography of Norman Rockwell in order to attempt to glean some insight into his influences, especially his interaction with the Leyendeckers. Rockwell is an artist who made great leaps forward from his early work, which was surprisingly mediocre (1915ish). He was a fine draftsman early on, but flowered greatly in the 20's and I'm curious as to how and why. I know he visited Europe during that time he was making his exponential progress, and looking at this work by Meissonier, I think we find an artist who contributed to that gain. The overall sense of this work is very Rockwell, with the pompous Sergeant surrounded by his lolling comrades, a gentle lampooning of military grandiosity.

James Gurney said...

Indigo, I think it's very likely that Rockwell was studying the work of Meissonier very closely. I did a blog post "Was Rockwell Looking?" about some probable influences: http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2012/01/was-rockwell-looking.html

indigo wendigo said...

It's nice to find connections. For me, discovering little tricks (camera obscura, etc) and influences of great artists is inspiring and encouraging. Van Gogh writing his brother about his landscape grid device is an example. It humanizes them, and helps me to identify with the fact that we share a common bond of visual exploration.

James Gurney said...

Indigo, I agree, and another important connection is that Van Gogh was extremely aware of Howard Pyle and went out of his way to collect Harpers magazines from the US so that he could study the compositions.

Paul Sullivan said...

Indigo and James, I agree with you on all points.

Indigo, I'm happy to hear you are reading the autobiography of Rockwell. There is some good random information in the biography by Solomon however, Rockwell deserved something much more scholarly.

Tascott said...

I would never have imagined a Pyle influence on Van Gogh. Facinating! It's like Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.

indigo wendigo said...

I just noticed that it even has a signature Rockwell dog in there! Yes, Paul, sometimes I feel like an amateur archeologist when it comes to turn of the century realism. So much has been forgotten, or even buried, in the hasty transition to modernism. At this point, finding nuggets of information on guys like Pyle feels like trying to figure out the exact spells that Merlin used. I really appreciate some of these high-res images online. I can learn a lot from zooming in to a Bougereau eye or nostril. Much closer than museum security allows!

Rich said...

"Hommage à Meissonier"

Undertitle of Salvador Dali's "Thuna Fish" late (pretty realist although surrealist) canvas.

Steve said...

Wonderful painting; I'm grateful to be introduced to it.

Following up on David Webb's comment, I love how zooming in on the graffiti at the extreme right hand edge of the image reveals another "portrait" -- what appears to be a stick figure in military uniform about to touch off the fuse on a cannon.

Gayle said...

Just finished reading "The Judgement of Paris" in which Meissonier features quite prominently throughout. So what a delight to read this blog and get a link to the free online book. Thank you!

Pyracantha said...

There's a visual weirdness in this painting. One of the soldiers, with the tallest cap, is standing behind a chair, second from left. When I saw that I immediately thought he must be a dwarf or a child, standing full-height on the chair. Only when I looked closer did I find his legs behind the chair, barely visible. Odd things happen to paintings when you see them in miniature.