National Gallery of Ireland

The Greatest Painter You Never Heard Of

The National Gallery of Ireland

What French painter of the mid-1800’s commanded the highest prices for his paintings? Which creative genius was named “the most renowned artist of our time” and “the incontestable master of our epoch”?

Wrong. You probably guessed Monet or Renoir, Manet or Van Gogh. But, at a time when Manet was publicly ridiculed for his impressionist style, this artist’s creations were subject to furious bidding wars between Princes and titans of industry.

Of course, now you know. It was Ernest Meissonier.

Who? Just goes to show that there’s no predicting the tastes of future generations.

Meissonier lavished exquisite attention on his relatively small canvases. His favourite subjects were horses and stirring recreations of Napoleonic battle scenes. Admirers such as the art critic Ruskin studied his paintings with a magnifying glass.

You aren’t able to properly appreciate Messonier’s microscopic control unless you can find one of his paintings and stick your face about two inches from the canvas. His minitiaturist genius cannot be seen in a reproduction.

So, where can you find a Meissonier?

Of all places, the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin has one of his masterpieces.

And that’s the strange glory of this wonderful collection. You’ll find one of just about any famous artist you can name in Ireland’s premier art museum.

There’s one Rembrandt – and a great one, a nocturnal scene considered the definitive example of the genre. There’s one Vermeer, the best of his many paintings showing a girl writing a letter. Gabriel Metsu’s lifetime masterpiece on the same subject is here.

El Greco, Picasso, Rubens, Fra Angelico, Goya, Gerome, Brueghel – the role call of famous artists stretches on and on. One or two paintings each. And, naturally, there’s an unparalleled collection of Irish artists.

And one Meissonier.

by Scott Simons