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Memory of Civil War (The Barricades)

Louvre, Paris


Constance Cain Hungerford situate's Meissoner's Memory of Civil War in the context of earlier representations of gruesome events:

“There is, then, ample precedent in Meissonier’s work for the style that creates such a disturbing effect of aloofness in the Souvenir de guerre civile. If his image of a civil conflict differs from other comparable atrocity scenes, such as Goya’s etchings in the Disasters of War series or Daumier’s lithograph of 1834 of the rue Transnonain massacre, one cannot therefore assume that Meissonier was any less genuinely moved by his subject. Meissonier was a Salon painter, appropriately termed an academic because of his election to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, but not because he was a product of the academic instruction of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He had little knowledge of how to go about painting a subject with such important human dimensions. Instead, his on-the-job training had shaped for him the modest aesthetic of a decorative illustrator, whose purpose was to provide a maximum of engaging detail, serving almost as footnotes to subjects and ideas developed principally in the text. He was little equipped to reverse the function of his image and now invest it with all the larger historical and human meaning one might expect of such a subject. The style that had become the focus of admiration for its own perfection could not now become a vehicle of expression, integral with the subject.”

Constance Cain Hungerford, “Meissonier’s Souvenir de guerre civile,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 61, no. 2 (June 1979) : 287.

About the Artist

Born: Lyon, 21 February 1815
Died: Paris, 31 January 1891
Nationality: French