The Plight of Emulation
Ernest Meissonier and French Salon Painting
AUTHOR: Gotlieb, Marc J.
PUBLISHER: Princeton University Press
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By the time of Ernest Meissonier's death in 1891, he was among the most famous painters of the nineteenth century. Delacroix, for instance, had hailed him as the "incontestable master of our epoch" and had felt that Meissonier's posthumous reputation would be greater than his own. But Meissonier's renown quickly vanished, and to modernist critics his oeuvre, composed largely of genre and battle paintings, seemed of little value. This provocative study of emulation contests the modernist critique and discloses a new aspect of Meissonier and French Salon painters in general: many of these artists attempted the ultimately impossible task of remaining loyal to their teachers and other predecessors while at the same time escaping their influence. A subtle and gifted painter, Meissonier projected a supremely self-confident public image. Nevertheless, he was obsessed by his efforts to prevail over the past. Marc Gotlieb examines both Meissonier's career and his painting, paying particular attention to the artist's exploration of genre painting as a new form of expression, to his use of live models, and to his eventually fruitless attempt to complete a massive mural painting that would rival those of the old masters on the grandest scale. Using new approaches from art history, literature, and psychoanalysis, The Plight of Emulation offers not only an intellectual biography of an extremely talented artist but also a wide-ranging picture of a fascinating era in European cultural history and a convincing analysis of the final impasse of the French Salon.
PUBLICATION DATE: 3/7/1996
CATEGORY: Art, History