Meissonier enjoys an unusual place in the history of French painting; during his lifetime no other artist received greater honours or higher prices for his work. Meissonier’s admirers were not only the wealthy bourgeois (and occasional aristocrat: the Duke of Narbonne-Pelet, first owned Dimanche à Poissy) and the artist’s disciples, but occasionally even those painters who had pursued radically different paths and styles. While Meissonier is often described as an academic painter he did not follow the traditions of the academy, which through most of the 19th century continued to pay homage to classicism. The critic, Théophile Gautier, wrote that “Terburg, Netscher, Metzu, Brauwer, Mieris, Frans Hals, Van Ostade and Peter de Hooch should hang upon Meissonier’s walls as portraits of his ancestors” and Meissonier, a Frenchman, is remembered above all for his attempts to translate seventeenth century Dutch genre painting into a vision uniquely his own.
While Meissonier staged models in period costume, they were nonetheless portrayed in everyday poses and activities; the scene of men and women gathered to play or watch a game of bowls in Dimanche à Poissy shows bourgeois life much as it was in his own time, although untouched by the daily dramas that are the reality in every age. Meissonier was celebrated for his ability to capture gesture and his virtuosity with detail, extraordinary when one considers the painting’s figures are seven centimetres high. The composition of Dimanche is characteristically ambitious though– a critic at the Salon of 1850 counted 26 of them.
Meissonier moved to Poissy in 1846 (he was eventually elected mayor, a post he served from 1869 until 1888, three years before his death.) Meissonier’s biographer Philippe Butry noted that this painting, called Le Dimanche, Joueurs, was bought by the Comte de Narbonne for the huge sum of 140,000 francs.