Monday, May 2, 2016

Meissonier's "The Smoker"

Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier The Smoker (A Man of the First Empire), 1873.
Watercolor and gouache on paper. Overall: 13 7/8 x 8 5/8 in. (35.2 x 22 cm
In this small painting, Meissonier shows an approach to water media that would make sense to an oil painter.

Meissonier. Approximately actual size
The lights are built up over a warm middle tone paper. The light tones are scumbled over the background, leaving little pits of darker tone. The face and hands are carefully modeled. You can feel the bones underneath the skin. The edges of the lapel and the hat are grease-stained and frayed, as befits an old outmoded soldier from Bonaparte's era.

The highlights on the pipe are very small, considering that the whole painting is the size of a piece of legal-size paper. Watercolor with gouache can be precise and highly descriptive if you take your time.
Download the large size file of the painting


Pat Rock said...

Its hard for me to see, but is he using the watercolor as an underpainting to the gouache?

Jared Cullum said...

Holy moly that is beautiful. I'll have to look up more by Messionier with gouache.
At first, with the small screen on my phone, I thought that was a revolver and he was blowing it out like a cool cowboy. haha

Diane Mannion said...

Wonderful to see what can be done with watercolor and gouache! Thank you James Gurney. Spending the summer absorbing your book COLOR AND LIGHT. Have been telling a lot of artists about your work, especially the ones that never heard of gouache!

Daroo said...

Wow -- very similar in feel to his oil paintings. I just saw Meissonier's "A Painter" over the weekend (oil on mahogany) and it is even smaller than this painting( approx. 10.5" X8.25"). An amazing amount of detail, great sense of light and excellent "drawing" all in a really small package. There is a certain natural simplification that happens from working at a smaller scale, but what were the advantages for him in painting so small? Less materials? smaller studio? Save on framing?

Interestingly, I think Norman Rockwell's Post cover "a sign painter" seems influenced by this painting -- similar pose, costume of the same era, strong bony structure to the head and hands...

James Gurney said...

Daroo, Good eye. I think Rockwell was aware of Meissonier, and I made the case for him borrowing a bit from him in a previous post called "Was Rockwell Looking?"

Diane, thanks for spreading the word about my books and about gouache!

Jared, the French academics were some of the best with gouache. They didn't have the British view that using opaques in watercolor was somehow adulterating it. Check out Vibert's gouaches, too.

Pat, I think he's using more transparent passages in the darks and more opaques in the lights, just like you would do with oils.