Friday in the atelier: "May I have one too" by Emile Munier

Today the artist I'm showing may or may not be a treat to my readers. Emile Munier (1840 – 1895) was an obviously skilled painter who was famous in his own time. He was a student of William Bouguereau, and his later works show that influence. What may not be quite as much of a treat to my readers is subject matter – during his life he came to be known as a painter of young children and their pets. The amount of cuteness in Munier's paintings often reached critical levels.

Even so, Munier's abilities were outstanding. He was able to capture a fleeting expression and sudden gesture and portray it exactly on canvas. He understood figure drawing as well as Bouguereau, and his paintings have even been mistaken for Bouguereau paintings do to their closeness of style. He understood the human figure not only of adults, but of children, which seems (to me) to be a frequent hurdle for painters.

Whether or not a Munier painting makes someone say, “Awww” or sends them into diabetic shock, there is no way a person can deny his ability. And even for the cute intolerant, there are paintings that they could love, such as his painting “La Baigneuse” (The Bather).

Munier's life is interesting, but the details of his biography all seem traceable to a copyrighted essay on the Rehs Galleries web site. The material for that essay was supplied by Munier's great, great grandson, so I would suppose it is the most accurate of any found online. You can read that biographical essay here.

I'd like to just touch on a few of the highlights of Munier's life. His life story isn't that of a starving artist or overcoming great odds. He started out very modestly, born to a working class family who worked at the famous Gobelins Manufactory, which made tapestry and carpets for royalty and the rich and famous. This was a job to encourage artistic talent, so it was not surprising that the Munier family encouraged art. Munier and his two brothers demonstrated talent by the age of 14.

Munier married Henriette Lucas, the daughter of his first drawing instructor, at the age of 21. Six years later Henriette bore Munier a son and mere weeks after that Henriette died suddenly from unknown causes. (It was attributed to “severe Rheumatism” which back then was medical language for “we don't know”.) Five years after Henriette's death, Munier married Sargines Angrand-Campenon, who was a friend of Henriette and Emile, and a student of Henriette's father. Sargines and Emile had a daughter together sometime between 1872 and 1878.

I guess it isn't very surprising from the quality of his work that Munier fervent supporter of the ideals and skills of Academic tradition. He won 3 medals at the École des Beaux-Arts and first exhibited at the Salon de Paris at the age of 29. He studied the works of Boucher and of course Bouguereau to became a world famous master.

Munier died suddenly, at the young age of 55. He was active as an artist and instructor until days before his death.


The first of the two Munier paintings that I'm showing today is called, “May I have one too”. As always I'm showing a cropped detail – you may click on the links to see the painting in full. In this painting what I find most striking are the eyes of the little girl with the red top. I've seen that expression on the faces of the children of my friends or family – the expression evokes feelings of family. And of course the figures in this painting are so lifelike it is easy to imagine they are nearby and ready to step out into the open if called. I enjoy all the elements of this painting, but my gaze keeps going back to the eyes of the child.

The second painting I'm showing is called, “Pardon, Mama”. This painting is very maternal, very loving. It is also, in my opinion, on the borderline between “aww” and “ack!” When I'm in the right frame of mind I find it touching and sensitive. Other times it gives me the same feeling as a Hallmark made for TV movie in which a director might cynically manipulate the viewer's emotions.

Munier's works are like this – several of them evoke family, love, and Maternal faithfulness. Others go just a bit too far and feel sticky-sweet, even manipulative. The dividing line between the two is blurry, and its placement varies depending on the viewer. But all of his works are beautiful, masterpieces of technique and ability, and well worth your time to view them.

2 comments:

John said...

A good assessment. Munier hovered at the border between Academic depiction and selling out to bourgeois sappy sentimentality.

pieter graydon said...

Not sure if you can always make the connection between the bourgeoisie and the sentimental. Its seems to me that both the rich and the aristocracy have feelings too. Likewise, we all have mothers and joyful moment, whether we admit it or not.