Meissonier's prep work

Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891) did meticulous studies in preparation for his Napoleonic history paintings. Here is one of his oil studies from a model in an authentic uniform.

According to an early eyewitness, "he made a beautifully finished little wax model of a horse and a rider....Every detail was carefully reproduced from the real materials—the rider's cloak, hat, and spurred boots were miniature masterpieces—and in order to get the exact folds of the cloak it was dipped into thin glue and then placed in the wind so that it stiffened as it blew." This model is made of wood, wax, metal, leather, and cord, and measures about 8 inches tall. 

Here's a detail of one of his paintings, showing why the preparatory work was necessary. This conviction doesn't happen by accident or last-minute inspiration. Managing all the details and dynamics of even a single figure requires immense focus and effort, a lot like a modern movie director planning a complex visual effects scene.

And here is the entire painting, 1807, Friedland, which took him ten years to complete. You can see the painting at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, or download it in high rez from the Met website.

If you want to read more about Meissonier, I recommend Ross King's book The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism, which compares the fates of Meissonier and Manet.
Meissonier on Wikipedia 
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