Saturday, April 30, 2011

!00 Paintings

57) Friedland byJean-Louis Earnest Meissioner 1815-1891

This enormous masterpiece can be seen at the Met in New York. It is a tour de force. I find it awe inspiring. A small reproduction only hints at what the real thing looks like.

Scale matters in painting, not in images.

(that sounded so cool when I wrote it, that it had to be in bold text, there is the benefit to a forced writing regimen, stuff does pop out at you)

It's (gotta remember to get that right, that's a contraction for "it is", I know that, but still get it wrong routinely. It is a blog though, I have no editor, they get paid). easy today when we have seen movies of the same subject which are full of detail plus movement, to dismiss a painting like this as just another image like so many others, and still at that. That would be true if it were an "image". When you stand in front of it, and think of it as a painting, that is a different thing. It is a magnificent painting. The drawing is so incredible that you can stand and be entertained by it. I can watch it like a TV set.

Meissioner loved to draw, and spent 12 years making the thing, he posed models, made little sculptures of figures and even had a legion of horsemen ride over a crop in the field to know what that would look like. The exhaustive research and the endless sketches and studies add up to a very beautifully wrought painting.

In art school they used to dismiss technique as hollow, a teacher might have used the sobriquet "empty technique". Different styles and periods of art have valued different qualities in painting. In the 19th century, beautiful worksmanship was highly esteemed. Think of Faberge eggs and Belter furniture. Meissionier believed in technique as art, the story was important, but what it looked like was where the painting lived. The painting was "well considered in all its particulars",
as the period vernacular would have it.

More on this tomorrow, I have to paint. I have a big project I am furiously working on.


Daniel Ljunggren said...

The craftmanship is incredible, as is the drawing like you mention. I am a little surprised by the fact that he kept the faces of the soldiers so identical, to me there are many that look the same. Maybe it's the small size that does it..

And I'm a bit bothered as to why the horses on the right are looking towards the viewer, as if they are distracted by something..

Incredible work nonetheless.

Kevin Beck said...

Truly a tour de force painting. There is a wonderful book out about Messioner and Manet, The Judgement of Paris by Ross King. Apparently Messioner was the most financilly successful artisit of the 19th century and virtually forgotten in the 20th. The book compares these artists' lives and "success" or lack there of in context with the times. Really a great read.

Thomas Kitts said...


Two things I'd like add, if you are willing to post them. I think you and I are of the same generation, and the art school I graduated from was definitely biased toward the contemporary arts. (Which in retrospect I have no trouble with, as it was a fine program in every respect: Kansas City Art Institute.)

In general, the credo held by the KCAI faculty was that an artist's technique should be so good that it becomes transparent, and that is an rule I still hold to today. One cannot effectively separate technique from content (to paraphrase Marshall McCluhan...) so if someone focuses solely on craft to the detriment of content, (or, the other way around) I view that as a weakness. It's the one concern I have about the atelier system that has become such the rage these days. Sure, sound painting practices are being espoused (for the most part), and the craft of traditional painting is being honored by them, but too often I see extremely well-rendered yet "dead" examples uploaded as show pieces to the approach. (Just IMHO, of course. Others may feel different...)

But then, to capture life on a canvas -- as if it were a living breathing thing -- is the most difficult thing to do, eh? And to do it takes skill and experience no matter how one goes about doing it.

If you or your blog readers haven't read Ross King's book "The Judgement of Paris" you'd enjoy it as it focusses upon the decade before the advent of Impressionism, and juxtaposes Meissioner against Manet,a good pairing, and frankly, the reader learns a lot about both artists. Meissioner was quite excited about the advent of 'this new way of painting', even advocated for it's inclusion into the Grand Salon. Against the very aristocratic and conservative elements which made the institution so rule-bound.

A very interesting book and remains one of my favorites. And where else can you read about how barricades and riots and killings sprung up in the streets over a painting?

Now that's life, eh?

Thomas Kitts

Mary Byrom said...

But Thomas, wouldn't you say that those "dead"examples are just because the artist hasn't learned how to put "the life" in it yet? In time they might be able to...and they might show these pieces as examples because we are just beginning to emerge out of the years when the craft of traditional painting was not mainstream in the "art market" and taught in schools? It seems to me there are not many painters now who are skilled enough to paint some of the complex designs of paintings from the past...not even mentioning "the life" in them... said...

There is that discussion again...what makes a painting art?
"I know it when I see it". Aside from technique and craftsmanship for me it come down to whether its meaningful in any way. Did it mean something to the artist? does it mean something to the viewer?

For me, I find Friedland to be very powerful. Messioner was so passionate about the story and getting bit right it speaks to me. While that Roman scene yesterday just left me empty and not even caring how well it was done.

Franz Kline said " If you do it with meaning it will mean much" . You can say that about life too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bothers me not at all.The horse on the very right is charging right out of the painting. It looks like an old Cinerama effect. It certainly looks like he used a sculpted model to get that to work.Seen in person it makes the painting wrap around your vision, perceived in a print it works kless well. There is that paining versus image thing again.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Reading that is on my to do list. I have a stack of books beside my bed that I am wading through. I have a friend who will lend me a copy.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It sounds as if your art school was better than mine. The art school I went to had completely gone over to the avant garde. Nothing useful was taught there. I only lasted a year.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think some of those atelier students will turn out very well. Most won't but that's art for you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Ah! there you are, don't like the little masterpiece? like this one, but not that? Hard to please aren't we?
I suppose I need to do a post on craftsmanship and it's value.

Thomas Kitts said...


I think I agree with Stapleton (assuming he agrees with me), that no matter what kind of painting is being discussed, there are some practitioners who are better at it than others and they will always be the minority. That's why we venerate their genius.

I actually do believe the atelier system offer a lot to the novice painter, but I also believe it essential that any school -- or institution for that matter -- should teach the entire thread of Western Art and not pick and choose too selectively. Otherwise the artist matriculates without a full understanding of their discipline.

Whether someone likes it or not, the transition from Classicism into Modernism happened, and it was for comprehensible reasons. It's effects are here to stay, even though they are now being tempered with more traditional approaches to painting again. All well and good.

What comes round, comes round again, but always in a different way. We can't, and in my mind shouldn't, try to return to the Salon system the way it was since it...well, it gave birth to Modernism by providing something to react against, eh? (grin)

Thomas Kitts