In my research on Courbet I found the need to acquire a book on 19th Century art as I had no good overview on my shelves. I picked up “Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1780-1880” by Fritz Novotny. Not a bad overview but one lacking in that it focuses primarily on the artists whose names are remembered and they are remembered because they influenced other artists although a large majority of them died with little relative recognition within their lifetimes and mostly penniless at that.
However artists who were quite famous in that century but have fallen out of favor are missing, there are only two entries that address Meissonier and no plates illustrating his work. On Meissonier “..show where unlimited naturalism in history-paintings executed by specialists can lead- to the costume piece and a ghostly, entirely unreal form of reportage.” Further “..it is astonishing how devoid of all art art can be.”
To fully understand the development of Modernism it is important to see what, in it’s early incarnations it was up against and what was the function and status of art at that time. As an artist I can’t help but say that there is a timeless aspect to art, by that I mean I can look at a Carravagio or an unknown Sienese Master and suddenly be stricken with what is labeled as Stendhal Syndrome and not know a damn thing about the usually Christian narrative being illustrated. That said though, art and artists are not living in vacuums, each generation has the weight of the far past, recent past and societal change, the present that is hazy and a future unknown and it is when they wrestle with these various things simultaneously that great things happen.