“The Greatest Painter in the World” Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (French, 1815-1891)

“One of the un-constestable masters of our epoch.”

“All of us will be forgotten, but Meissonier will be remembered.”

-Eugène Delacroix, Painter and Friend of Meissonier

“His presence will be assured in the museums of the future.”

-Théophile Gautier, Nineteenth Century Critic

“One of the greatest glories of the entire world.”

-Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany

Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (French, 1815-1891) Self-portrait (1889) Oil on canvas

In his book, The Judgment of Paris–which I have referred to on more than one occasion on this blog–Ross King explores how one of the world’s formost painters could become nearly anonymous nearly 100 years after his death.

Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (French, 1815-1891). The Siege of Paris (1876) Oil on canvas. Private collection.

Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier was the highest paid painter of his day. His paintings, which often took years to paint, were unveiled to huge crowds and discussed in international newspapers. The list of people buying his painting reads like a who’s who of late-nineteenth-century, European money and power.

Now, he is primarily remembered as a “costume painter.”

Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (French, 1815-1891). The French Campaign (1861) Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

In short video interview, Ross King talks about Meissonier and his fall into obscurity (Click here to see the video.)

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  1. 8/7/2008

    Thank you so much for posting this. I had not seen his self-portrait before. Meissonier has a large, historical painting at the Met which always holds my attention; it is an art lesson within itself.

  2. Elatia Harris

    We can hope condescension towards such artists as Bouguereau and Meissonier will soon go as far out of style as the artists themselves have been these long years. However, I would hate to see academic painting get its due on the basis of the painters’ skill alone — that too would be a form of condescension. I am interested to hear exactly why — other than technique — the people who cherish academic painters feel attracted to them. Dali, perhaps speaking truthfully, once said his favorite painter was Meissonier.

    As for Delacroix, he had catholic tastes. He told Victor Hugo that, had he made as much of his painting as of his poetry, he would have been the visual artist to dominate the 19th century. You almost can’t get as far apart as VH and Meissonier.

  3. Pamela A. Martin

    My father has owned since he was a young man a J.L E. Messonier engraving
    “The Halt” . It isan original dated 1878 with the engraver’s name and picture in the corner- Farrier. it was oriniallt found in the house (built 1850) my father grew up in Pittsburgh Pa,
    I was hoping that maybe someone on this site could help my father and I with the history and worth of this artwork and of the artist.

    Pamela Martin aallen634@comcast.net

  4. John Roza

    Dear Sir/Madam

    I have been looking for this partiqular painting by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier entitles La rixe or the brawl I cannot find it anywhere. It depicts a fight in a tavern. Do you know in which museum this painting is located?


    JG Roza

  5. Alba Roberts

    Jean Louis Meissonier,Salvador Dali and Gabriel Tomsick are the greatest painters of all time.

  6. Linda Hollister

    I have La Rixe from my step father’s family’s home. The back has written “…which is now at Osborn House” this was glued to the back on an old piece of paper.

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