Friday, January 27, 2012

Soulful Moment

“For a picture to be alive, palpitating, we must recognize the moment chosen by the painter as one which sums up the souls of those depicted, with all their former experiences.” 
—Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891)

Meissonier's painting Napoleon, Campaign of France, 1814 (click to enlarge) is from the Musee d'Orsay, whose website describes the scene: "The episode he has chosen, although it occurred after several victories, announces forthcoming defeats. There is no action or event, just an atmosphere of loneliness and despondency. The doubts and resignation felt by the officers and the troops are palpable and are opposed to the determination that emanates from the isolated figure of Napoleon. These feelings are accentuated by the color range: the whole scene uses brown and grey tones, subdued, deadened registers. The protagonists are not trampling virgin snow, but muddy ground."


Janet Oliver said...

I love this painting. I look at it with different eyes after reading your description of a Rembrandt windmill painting, a reproduction of which you had hanging in your studio. Now I notice the light-on-light (Napoleon's horse against the winter sky) and dark-on-light (Napoleon's hat against the same sky, and his horse's nose against the dark line of soldiers in the back right)scheme. There is not much dark-on-dark, unless you consider the mounted soldiers grouped together, but they really serve as a counterpoint to Napoleon.

Nick Jainschigg said...

If you haven't read it yet, check out "the Judgement of Paris" by Ross King. Ostensibly the story of the Impressionists, it's actually hung together by the story of Meissonier, a much more interesting and complex character than he's usually portrayed.

James Gurney said...

Nick, thanks for mentioning it. I love that book, which compares the fates and fortunes of Manet and Meissonier. I have added a link to it at the end of the post.

Ijon Tichy the Nth said...

The book talks about how he would use some obscene amounts of flour to create the "snow slush."