The French painter, engraver, lithographer, draughtsman and sculptor, Jean Louis-Ernest Meissonier was born in Lyon on 21 February 1815. He was the leading French classicist painter and sculptor. Meissonier studied under the French historical and portrait painter Léon Cogniet (1794–1880) in Paris. He also copied the Dutch masters, such as Peter Paul Rubens, and others displayed in the Louvre. In order to support himself, he completed various commissions for book printers, including illustrations for Ludovico Ariosto's book "Orlando Furioso" and Jacques-Henri Bernardine de Saint-Pierre’s "Paul and Virginia", and "The Indian Hut". In 1831, Jean Louis-Ernest Meissonier made his artistic debut at the Paris Salon, where he exhibited his work "Les Bourgeois Flamands", also known as the "Visit to the Burgomeister". He also exhibited his work "The Errand boy and the Chess Player" there in 1836. During this time, he made illustrations for the publishers Léon-Henri Curmer (1801–70), Pierre-Jules Hetzel (1814–86), and Dubocherhe.
Jean Louis-Ernest Meissonier then briefly began painting works with religious content, and subsequently became very influenced by the work of Paul Marc J. Chenavard (1807–95). In 1840, the artist was awarded third place in the World Exhibition, going on to win second place in 1841, and then first place in 1843. Meissonier was also awarded a medal of honour at the 1844 World Exhibition, and in 1846, made a knight of the Legion D’honneur. He exhibited his work at the Paris Salon in 1855 and 1864.
Meissonier was famous for his carefully executed historical scenes taken from French military history, specifically the periods of Napoleon I. (1769–1821) and Napoleon III. (1808–73). Examples of these works include "Napoleon I in the Battle of Friedland" (1875), "Napoleon III. at Solferino" (1864) and "General Desaix and the Army of the Rhine"(1867). In 1878, Jean Louis-Ernest Messonier showed 16 paintings at the World Exhibition, and in 1884 he held a solo exhibition of 146 works at the Galerie Petit. In 1890, he became president of the newly founded Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Meissonier taught his son Jean Charles Meissonier (1848–1917), Jean Baptiste Édouard Detaille (1847–1912) and the German painter Fritz Werner (1827–1908), amongst others.
Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier died in Paris on 31st January 1891.