Ernest Chesneau was a writer, critic and administrator.
Chesneau began his literary career in the late 1850s, writing poetry and articles on the arts for several Parisian journals. In 1862 he was appointed arts reviewer for L'Opinion nationale and in 1863 he began writing weekly articles on art for Le Constitutionnel. He also made regular contributions to L'Artiste and Revue des deux mondes. From July 1869 until September 1870 he held the post of Inspecteur des Beaux-Arts, a position acquired through his friendship with Comte de Nieuwerkerke.
Chesneau, who was a friend and admirer of John Ruskin, was deeply concerned with the relationship between art and society. He believed that modern art should seek to truthfully depict contemporary life, and in this way admired the work of Gustave Courbet. However, he objected to Courbet's technique, holding that the artist should paint works of a noble character, displaying technical virtuosity.
Chesneau, who was one of the first to offer critical support to the work of Edouard Manet, in 1864 acquired a small painting by the artist. He also appeared as a champion of Whistler in the 1860s. Writing in the Constitutionnel in 1863 of the rejected Symphony in White, No. I: The White Girl (YMSM 38), Chesneau described it as 'absolutely remarkable'. In 1867, commenting on the Universal Exposition, he recalled that the rejection of this painting by the Salon 'made M. Whistler famous overnight'. Around 1867 Whistler gave Chesneau an etching. It is not known what it was or why Whistler gave it to him (#08047). However, Chesneau was deeply disappointed by Whistler's Durand-Ruel exhibition in 1873. He declared, 'If something drastic does not occur to jolt the artist out of his morbid, self-indulgent reveries, he will be lost to art'.
Chesneau, E., La Peinture en France au 19ème siècle, Paris, 1862; Chesneau, E., L'Art et les artistes modernes en France et en Angleterre, Paris, 1864; Chesneau, E., Les Nations rivales dans l'art, Paris, 1868; Chesneau, E., 'Le Japonisme dans les arts', Musée Universel, vol. 2, 1873, pp. 214-17; Chesneau, E., Peintres et statuaires romantiques, Paris, 1880; Chesneau, E., Le Statuaire J.-B.Carpeaux: Sa vie et son oeuvre, Paris, 1880; Chesneau E. and F. Calmettes, L'Oeuvre complet de Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 1885; Holt, E. Gilmore (ed.), The Art of All Nations, 1850-1873: The Emerging Role of Exhibitions and Critics, New York, 1981; Asfour, Amal, 'Ernest Chesneau', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, accessed 4 September 2002, http://www.groveart.com.