Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier - The Hired Assassins (1852)
Pierre Narcisse Guerin - Clytemnestra and Agamemnon (1822)
For today's December Double I’ve selected a pair of paintings which both depict assassins approaching their intended victims. I proudly present 'The Hired Assassins' by French classicist painter Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier and 'Clytemnestra and Agamemnon' by fellow French painter Pierre Narcisse Guerin. Though these works are derived from widely different subject matter, they share a familiar narrative and generate a comparable level of tension.
The most obvious difference between these two works is that Guerin's painting provides a view of the assassin target, otherwise known as Clytemnestra’s husband Agamemnon, whereas in Meissonier's painting the target is located out of sight behind that handsome wooden door. The inclusion of Agamemnon himself, shown sleeping comfortably in his bed, generates sympathy for him and perhaps even contempt for the Clytemnestra as well as her accomplice, Aegisthus, who is shown pushing her forward. This interaction between Clytemnestra and Aegisthus certainly stands out, amd this area of the painting is emphasized by the bright light illuminating behind the curtain.
Similarly, Meissonier's painting shows interaction between his two assassins, as the man surveying through the keyhole urges his eager companion to stand back. This is a very simple yet effective use of body language between the men, their posture and gestures complimenting each other to create a composition which comfortably guilds the eye from left to right through light and shadow. Meissonier's approach actually feels much more nuanced than that shown in Guerin's painting, adding intrigue to this otherwise ambiguous scene.