Parting Thought on Meissonier, Manet, Toulmouche, & Leroux
When Herman Melville retired from his duties at the New York Customs House on December 31, 1885, he had much more time for his twin avocations of book collecting and print collecting. At the same time, he began to receive twenty-five dollars a month from his wife Elizabeth (from a Shaw family legacy) that he was free to spend “chiefly for books and pictures” (Metcalf, Cycles, 265). When the Metropolitan Museum of Art moved to its new building in Central Park at 80th and Fifth Avenue its collection consisted primarily of German paintings. During the last six years of his life, when Melville had much more time and money to devote to his print collection, the Metropolitan Museum greatly enhanced the number and quality of its French paintings through donations by Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, Henry Hilton, and Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1887 and by Edwin Davis in 1889. As we have seen in the catalog entries for this section, by 1890, when Melville was in the habit of visiting Central Park with his young granddaughters Eleanor and Frances as well as on his long solitary walks, the prints he had collected after Meissonier, Manet, Toulmouche, and Leroux were supplemented in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum by Meissonier’s 1807, Friedland (CAT 173, fig. 1); by Manet’s Boy with a Sword (CAT 174, Fig. 2) and Girl with a Parrot (CAT 175, fig. 3); by Toulmouche’s Homage to Beauty (CAT 175; Fig. 4); and by Leroux’s Roman Ladies at the Tomb of their Ancestors (CAT 176, no image currently available). All of those paintings had been painted in France between 1861 and 1880.
Here we will take a brief look at additional works by these and other contemporary French painters on display at the Metropolitan Museum between November 1890 and April 1891. In addition to Meissonier’s 1807, Friedland among the Modern Masters in the Old Western Galleries, the museum was showing two Meissonier paintings from the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection in the New Western Galleries, General and Adjutant and The Brothers Adrien and Willem van de Velde. His General and Adjutant was a bright, relaxed image of two mounted soldiers that Meissonier had painted in the Antibes. His double portrait of the van de Velde brothers depicted Dutch painters represented in Melville’s print collection (CAT number to be assigned) as well as in “At the Hostelry,” the ambitious dialogue among Old Master painters that Melville was still revising at the time of his death (NN BBO 158-59). But the largest and most dramatic supplement to the mounted horses ridden by the charging cuirassers in Meissonier’s Friedland was Rosa Bonheur’s The Horse Fair, the sixteen-foot-wide canvas from the 1853 Paris Salon that Cornelius Vanderbilt donated to the Museum in 1887, the same year that Friedland arrived as a gift from Henry Hilton (fig. 1).