Skip to content

Michel, Émile

    Full Name: Michel, Émile

    Other Names:

    • Émile Michel

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 19 July 1828

    Date Died: 24 May 1909

    Place Born: Metz, Grand Est, France

    Place Died: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Home Country/ies: France

    Subject Area(s): Dutch (culture or style), Flemish (culture or style), Netherlandish, Northern Renaissance, and painting (visual works)


    Painter and Dutch and Flemish art scholar. Michel’s mother was from Bavaria and the young man grew up with an appreciation of German as well as French culture. He studied drawing with Auguste Karl Migette (1802-1884) in Metz until 1845. After graduating from the l’École polytechnique in Paris he returned to Metz to work as an artist. The so-called School of Metz artists revolved around the artist Charles-Laurent Maréchal (1801-1887). Michel learned much about art criticism and art history from this magnetic personality. He travelled to Italy in 1852 staying at the Villa Medici where he met the academic painters Paul Baudry (1828-1886) and Alfred de Curzon (1820-1895). The following year he began exhibiting at the Salon and was a regular member until his death. He left Metz in 1872 to reside in Nancy and then, in 1880, to Paris. Michel’s early publication was a book on the German art museums in 1886. This was followed by a study of Gerard Ter Borch in 1887 for the Artistes célèbres series published by the Librairie de l’art. Volumes on Jacob van Ruysdael and Landscape School of Harlem and one on Hobbema appeared in 1892. His large, heavily-illustrated book on Rembrandt, Rembrandt, sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps was issued in 1893. A devote o fhte museums of Germany, he discoverd the work of Max Klinger, devoting a lengthy article to his work in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1894. He became a member Institute in 1892 and an officer of the Légion d’Honneur in 1903. His daughter, Jeanne, married the archaeologist and classical art historian Maxime Collignon. He counted himself a colleague of the Dutch scholar Abraham Bredius and Berlin museums director Wilhelm Bode. Michel’s writing is imbued with positivism of and admiration for Hippolyte Taine, (“a philosopher of singular power”) portraying the artist amid his time (Peltre). His book on Breughel, for example, drew upon scientific studies like that of Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) and Paul Richer (1849-1933), Les démoniaques dans l’art (Demoniacs in art) (1887), characterizing Breughel’s representation of the insane with patients exhibiting “hysteria and hystero-epilepsy” from photographs taken in mental hospitals. The critical method of Eugene Fromentin is also evident. “Fromentin first gave the example of an art critic who was himself a work of art” (Essays, 1900). His criticism extended to music “Les Maîtres de la symphonie.” Michel was an early and astute critic of the art museum, reserving some scorn for the Louvre and praise for the German institutions. An advocate for art history as an academic pursuit, he again derided his native France in favor of the German academic model. His goal of academic reform was most significantly carried out by his son-in-law, the great French academic reformer Collignon.

    Selected Bibliography

    [collected writings:] Essais sur l’histoire de l’art. Paris: Société d’édition artistique 1900, and Nouvelles études sur l’histoire de l’art. Paris: Librarie Hachette et Cie, 1908; Les musées d’Allemagne: Cologne – Munich – Cassel. Paris: Librairie de l’Art, 1886; Gérard Terburg (ter Borch) et sa famille. Paris: J. Rouam/London: G. Wood, 1887; Jacob van Ruysdael et les paysagistes de l’école de Harlem. Paris: Librairie de l’art, 1890; Hobbema et les paysagistes de son temps en Hollande. Paris: Librairie de l’art, 1890; Les Brueghel. Paris: L. Allison & cie 1892, English, The Brueghels. New York: Parkstone Press International, 2007; Rembrandt, sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps. Paris: Hachette, 1893, English, Rembrandt, his Life, his Work and his Time. London: W. Heinemann, 1894; Etudes sur l’histoire de l’art: Diego Velazquez, les debuts du paysage dans l’Ecole flamande, Claude Lorrain, les arts a la cour de Frederic II. Paris: Hachette, 1895; Les maitres du paysage. Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1906, English, Great Masters of Landscape Painting. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1910; Rubens: sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps. Paris: Hachette, 1900, English, Rubens: his Life, his Work, and his Time. London: W. Heinemann, 1899; La Forêt de Fontainebleau, dans la nature, dans l’histoire, dans la littérature et dans l’art. Paris: H. Laurens, 1909.


    Vapereau, Gustav. Dictionnaire universel des contemporains. 6th ed. Paris: Hachette, 1893; Peltre, Christine. “MICHEL, Émile.” Dictionnaire critique des historiens de l’art. Institut national d’histoire de l’art (website).; Jager, Odile. Emile Michel: 1828-1909. [unpublished dissertation] Université Marc-Bloch, Strasbourg, 1997; Benezit Dictionary of Artists; [obituaries:] “François Emile Michel.” American Art News 7, no. 32 (June 12, 1909): 9.


    "Michel, Émile." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: