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Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, A Man in Black smoking a Pipe

Key facts
Full title A Man in Black smoking a Pipe
Artist Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier
Artist dates 1815 - 1891
Date made 1854
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 32.4 × 23.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Presented by Mrs Alice Bleecker, 1981
Inventory number NG6468
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
A Man in Black smoking a Pipe
Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier

A young man in eighteenth-century costume leans back in his chair, pipe in hand, his expression dreamy. One leg is placed forwards to display a shapely calf, the other is hooked behind a chair leg. On the table beside him is a half-empty glass and a pewter jug of ale that glints in the dim light. Directly above him are two unframed popular prints.

This is one of many genre scenes painted by Meissonier. He admired the seventeenth-century Dutch artists, like Frans van Mieris the Elder, known as fijnschilders (‘fine painters’). They also produced small-scale genre paintings using brushstrokes so fine and meticulous they are virtually invisible. The great English art critic John Ruskin examined Meissonier’s work under a magnifying glass and commented on his manual skill and eye for detail. Others criticised him for his ‘limited repertoire’ but even so, he was enormously successful in his lifetime.

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