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Emile Munier: 19th Century French Painter, a Master of Realism

Updated on February 25, 2018
Émile Munier (1840 – 1895)
Émile Munier (1840 – 1895) | Source

Emile Munier's Family and Background

Pierre François Munier and Marie Louise Carpentier were graced with the birth of their second son Emile on June 2, 1840, in Paris, France. Pierre was an upholstery artist at the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins, a tapestry factory, and Marie was a polisher in a cashmere cloth mill.

Emile's siblings were Francois and Florimond, all three being gifted artists. All the boys served at the Gobelins, especially Francois, who followed his father's footsteps and became a factory foreman. Emile was taught drawing, painting, anatomy, and perspective by Professor Abel Lucas. Through Lucas, Emile painted in the style of the academic tradition and studied the works of Francois Boucher, who was known for his classical themes and Rococo style.

Entrance to the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA), Paris. The bust is of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), leading painter of French Baroque
Entrance to the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA), Paris. The bust is of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), leading painter of French Baroque | Source

Chronology of Events of Munier's Life

  • 1840 born June 2nd, in Paris, France
  • 1854 produced a pastel, self portrait (circa age 14)
  • 1860s received 3 medals from the ENSBA, a renown school for the arts
  • 1861 married Henriette Lucas, daughter of Munier's professor at Arts et Manufactures
  • 1867 birth of first son and death of wife Henrietta
  • 1869 exhibited at the Salon, an official event of ENSBA
  • 1871 left Gobelins to paint and teach
  • 1872 remarried Sargines Angrand-Campenon, a student of his father-in-law and art teacher

William-Adolphe Bourguereau (1825-1905) French Painter of Realism
William-Adolphe Bourguereau (1825-1905) French Painter of Realism | Source
  • 1872 became student of William-Adolphe Bourguereau
  • 1873 met George A. Lucas, an American art dealer
  • 1874 birth of daughter
  • 1875 father died
  • 1879 (circa) met collaborator Emile Gallé
  • 1883 developed an interest in opera
  • 1885 mother died; began poster contract with Pears Soap
  • 1889 painted portrait of Mr. & Mrs. Chapman H. Hyams, collectors of French art
  • 1892 continued teaching and attended Polytechnic School's painting workshop
  • 1893 received medal from the International Exhibition in Chicago; son married
  • 1895 died of cerebral congestion and buried at Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Realism in French Art

The period associated with French realism in art occurs from circa 1840-1899. The country of France was undergoing great political and social upheaval, as evidenced by the French Revolution of 1848. It was especially after the revolution that artists began depicting subjects of peasants and lower classes in their art, as opposed to the pristine, royal subjects and architecture of traditional academic themes that had been promoted by the Salon up until that time. The Salon, a highly regarded Parisian art exhibit sponsored by the wealthy dignitaries, had been the primary influence of French art. Renown artists of French realism were Courbet, Jean-François Millet, Honoré Daumier, and Rosa Bonheur, contemporaries of Monier.

Commentary on Le Saint Enfant Jesus (The Holy Child Jesus)

Here Jesus is portrayed as a French child, with blue eyes, fair skin, and dark blonde ringlets framing the face. He looks not directly ahead, but off to a distance on his left.

The halo about the head appears not as a ring of light, but as a seemingly solid gold, symmetrically etched disc, a common depiction of holy persons in earlier centuries.

The gray background augments the light of the subject's skin and seems to have paths of light extending from the designs of the halo.

The right hand of the child is positioned similar to the teaching mudras gesture of Buddhism, while the left hand covers the heart area. (Jesus, indeed, has been regarded as a teacher of the heart.)

Note the folds in the garment that give the sense of softness and flow. The golden collar, together with the halo, frames the child's face.

Le Saint Enfant Jésus (The Holy Child Jesus, 1893)
Le Saint Enfant Jésus (The Holy Child Jesus, 1893) | Source

Commentary on Le Premier Baiser (First Kiss)

A popular image for prints and collector items, First Kiss depicts two cherubs. Bradbury Mint's collector plate has given the story as Michael (an archangel) kissing Faith (the girl cherub) good-bye, as he has to go "down below" to earth on a mission.

The rosy, soft-appearing complexion and the curly blonde hair seem to attribute innocence to the pair. The concept of innocence is further suggested by wings and the cloud background, suggesting a heavenly or ethereal place.

Note the bending at the wrist of Faith's left hand that attests to the softness and flexibility of the subject. Faith's lips appear small, but perfectly formed like rose petals.

Le Premier Baiser (First Kiss)
Le Premier Baiser (First Kiss) | Source

Commentary on Orchid et Colibris (Orchid and Hummingbirds)

The bright, light lavender of the orchid, which almost entirely satisfies the center focal point, stands out here in this painting. Because the flower is slightly to the left of center, however, additional imagery is needed to balance the horizontal plane of reference. So, Munier created the perching hummingbirds and nest to the right of the flower. The light in the sky under the branch with the hanging moss in the upper right-hand corner also offsets the flower. Even the eggs in the nest seem to be aglow, and then there is the crescent white on the hummingbird’s breast nearest the flower. The tropical, winding branches create movement to the composition along with the positions of the hummingbirds, one appearing near flight.

The depiction of the sky suggests that the moment of the day is, perhaps, right after a rain, and the distant trees seem to be swaddled in fog, while the foreground subject matter is strikingly detailed and clear.

Cool colors dominate, but the pink tint in the lavender adds overall warmth, as does the yellow underside of the largest bird’s throat and red scissor tail.

Orchid et Colibris (Orchid and Hummingbirds)
Orchid et Colibris (Orchid and Hummingbirds) | Source

Selections of Munier's Work on Video

If you wish, you may select the pause icon for longer viewing of an individual painting.

Viewer discretion recommended for 3 seconds at 3.0 on the time line.

The Gallery's Grande Finale

The three works with commentary by Munier could be classified with the academic and romantic styles of the period. Certainly, the Holy Christ Child Jesus, First Kiss, and Orchids and Hummingbirds are not the mundane, every day subject commonly attributed to realism. The years 1883 and 1886 are when Monier used saintly or angelic figures in his work.

Munier became dubbed as "artist of children and their pets," as the majority of his works during his stay in Auvergne from 1886 to 1891 were of this same subject, true to the definition of realism. Ten of his works in the video depict pet animals in them.

For a gallery of Munier's works, you may visit

Where is Auvergne, France?

A markerAuvergne, France -
Auvergne, France
get directions

The vacation sport of Emile Munier where he painted his pictures of children and their pets in the rural setting.

Resources and Credits (biographical details) (history of French art and realism in the 19th C) (additional history of French realism; link nonfunctional 25.6.2017) (review of hand gestures)


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    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Yes, Ann, I fell in love with his art work. There were so many artists that mastered light, it's hard to say whom Kinkade modeled himself after, if anyone. According to research, Munier frequently used his own children (he had two--a boy and a girl) for models. You are very welcome with this sharing, and thank you for your visit and comment. Blessings!

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      My goodness - he was brilliant! And this is the first I've heard of him. I'm sure my mother would have loved him, also, since she loved to paint and preferred realism to abstract. I wonder if Kinkade might have picked up some of Munier's talent in using light. I also love the detail in all the faces and his children are particularly beautiful. Thanks for sharing his talents!

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Thank you for your visit and comment, Nellieanna. He must have been a sensitive man to be able to express the innocence and delicacy that appear in his paintings. Yes, that orchid with the hummingbirds struck me as something from a fantasy world. Lovely!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

      His paintings are exquisite! Thank you for the introduction, Marie. I so admire and appreciate the delicacy and detail of the whole paintings, and his people, fabrics and that orchid is nearly other-worldly!

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      Wow, Eric! You viewed and commented before I made the final touches on this one. Thank you so much for your viewing and comment. I'm glad the hub allowed you to "slow down and appreciate." Blessings!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you, sometimes I forget to slow down and appreciate. Great job here.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I became aware of Munier while searching for an image of a farm girl to serve as an icon on Triond online. While reviewing some of his work, I recognized the image of First Kiss, which, interestingly, was put on a collector plate had purchased years ago through the Bradford Exchange and credited Bouguereau, Munier's instructor. An eBay ad also listed Bouguereau as an impressionist, rather than a realist, the school from which Munier is most associated.

      At any rate, I love Munier's images of youth, the light in the faces and on the skin, appearing soft and almost real to touch. He also did black-and-white sketches still popular on some poster themes today.