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Man Going to Execution

On view

Man Going to Execution

Artist: Ernst Meisel (German, 1838 - 1895)

Date: n.d.a.
Medium: Oil on paper on canvas
Overall: 17 1/2 x 28 1/4in. (44.5 x 71.8cm)
Signed: Lower left: 'E. Meisel'
Credit Line: Proctor Collection
Object number: PC. 978
Label Text
Ernst Meisel (1838-95) was a German painter of genre and historical subjects. He was a student of Karl von Piloty (1826-86), who was renowned for his historical paintings and foremost representative of the Realist style in Germany. Since little is known of Meisel and his work, it is difficult to define the precise historical event The Man Going to Execution represents. Based on his teacher's tendency and that he exhibited from 1893 at Munich, however, Meisel's painting can be said to represent the characteristics of genre and history painting of the Munich School in the 19th century.

In the decades following the German Revolution of 1848/49, the public's concern for history required painters to present past events so effectively that strong, definite feelings about them would be evoked in the spectator. The Munich art-loving public desired to be able to step into the scene and identify with the actors. To that end, Meisel used a stage-like format to portray the last minutes before the execution of a nobleman. This dramatic scene is intensified by the color and lavishness of the costume worn by the nobleman and his family in contrast to the drabness of the lower-class onlookers. In addition, Meisel contrasted the profound grief of the former with the aloof gazes of the latter, and opposed the devastated grief of the women and the troubled innocence of the child with the psychological distance of the men. Unlike the expressive poses and gestures of women and child, he posed the male protagonist with his back to the viewer, effectively hiding his emotion from view. The three groups of male onlookers seem unaware of the women and a child in pain; their pyramidal group is excluded from the male arena associated with justice and punishment.

This painting was loaned to the Utica Public Library by Mrs. Thomas Proctor. She may have thought that Meisel's dramatic scene, despite its beautiful rendition of costume and sentimentality was not compatible with the other interior decoration of Fountain Elms. It was returned to Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in 1984 and is now on view for the first time after having been restored by the Williamstown Art Conservation Center.

Mira Shin
2002 Intern

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