Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (29 August 1780 – 14 January 1867) was a French Neoclassical painter. Although he considered himself to be a painter of history in the tradition of Nicolas Poussin and Jacques-Louis David, by the end of his life it was Ingres’s portraits, both painted and drawn, that were recognized as his greatest legacy.
Movements: Classicism, Neoclassicism, Orientalism
Note: Some of Ingres’ paintings contain nudity. If it offends you, please don’t read the article!
A man profoundly respectful of the past, he assumed the role of a guardian of academic orthodoxy against the ascendant Romantic style represented by his nemesis Eugène Delacroix. His exemplars, he once explained, were “the great masters which flourished in that century of glorious memory when Raphael set the eternal and incontestable bounds of the sublime in art … I am thus a conservator of good doctrine, and not an innovator.”
Nevertheless, modern opinion has tended to regard Ingres and the other Neoclassicists of his era as embodying the Romantic spirit of his time, while his expressive distortions of form and space make him an important precursor of modern art.
Ingres was born in Montauban, Tarn-et-Garonne, France, the first of seven children (five of whom survived infancy) of Jean-Marie-Joseph Ingres (1755–1814) and his wife Anne Moulet (1758–1817). His father was a successful jack-of-all-trades in the arts, a painter of miniatures, sculptor, decorative stonemason, and amateur musician; his mother was the nearly illiterate daughter of a master wigmaker.
From his father the young Ingres received early encouragement and instruction in drawing and music, and his first known drawing, a study after an antique cast, was made in 1789. Starting in 1786 he attended the local school École des Frères de l’Éducation Chrétienne, but his education was disrupted by the turmoil of the French Revolution, and the closing of the school in 1791 marked the end of his conventional education. The deficiency in his schooling would always remain for him a source of insecurity.
In 1791, Joseph Ingres took his son to Toulouse, where the young Jean-Auguste-Dominique was enrolled in the Académie Royale de Peinture, Sculpture et Architecture. There he studied under the sculptor Jean-Pierre Vigan, the landscape painter Jean Briant, and—most importantly—the painter Joseph Roques, who imparted to the young artist his veneration of Raphael.
Ingres’s musical talent was further developed under the tutelage of the violinist Lejeune. From the ages of thirteen to sixteen he was second violinist in the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, and he would continue to play the violin as an avocation for the rest of his life.
Having been awarded first prize in drawing by the Academy, in August 1797 he traveled to Paris to study with Jacques-Louis David, France’s—and Europe’s—leading painter during the revolutionary period, in whose studio he remained for four years. Ingres followed his master’s neoclassical example but revealed, according to David, “a tendency toward exaggeration in his studies.”
He was admitted to the Painting Department of the École des Beaux-Arts in October 1799, and won, after tying for second place in 1800, theGrand Prix de Rome in 1801 for his Ambassadors of Agamemnon in the tent of Achilles. His trip to Rome, however, was postponed until 1806, when the financially strained government finally appropriated the travel funds.
Working in Paris alongside several other students of David in a studio provided by the state, he further developed a style that emphasized purity of contour. He found inspiration in the works of Raphael, in Etruscan vase paintings, and in the outline engravings of the English artist John Flaxman.
In 1802 he made his debut at the Salonwith Portrait of a Woman (the current whereabouts of which are unknown). The following year brought a prestigious commission, when Ingres was one of five artists selected (along with Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Robert Lefèvre, Charles Meynier, and Marie-Guillemine Benoist) to paint full-length portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul. These were to be distributed to the prefectural towns of Liège, Antwerp, Dunkerque, Brussels, andGhent, all of which were newly ceded to France in the 1801 Treaty of Lunéville. As it is unlikely that Napoleon granted the artists a sitting, Ingres’ meticulously painted portrait of Bonaparte, First Consul appears to be modelled on an image of Napoleon painted by Antoine-Jean Gros in 1802.
In the summer of 1806 Ingres became engaged to Marie-Anne-Julie Forestier, a painter and musician, before leaving for Rome in September.
At the Salon, his paintings—Self-Portrait, portraits of the Rivière family, and Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne—produced a disturbing impression on the public, due to not only Ingres’s stylistic idiosyncrasies but also his adoption of Carolingian imagery in representing Napoleon.David delivered a severe judgement, and the critics were uniformly hostile, finding fault with the strange discordances of colour, the want of sculptural relief, the chilly precision of contour, and the self-consciously archaic quality. Chaussard (Le Pausanias Français, 1806) condemned Ingres’s style as gothic and asked: How, with so much talent, a line so flawless, an attention to detail so thorough, has M. Ingres succeeded in painting a bad picture? The answer is that he wanted to do something singular, something extraordinary … M. Ingres’s intention is nothing less than to make art regress by four centuries, to carry us back to its infancy, to revive the manner of Jean de Bruges.
As art historian Marjorie Cohn has written: “At the time, art history as a scholarly enquiry was brand-new. Artists and critics outdid each other in their attempts to identify, interpret, and exploit what they were just beginning to perceive as historical stylistic developments.”
The Louvre, newly filled with booty seized by Napoleon in his campaigns in Belgium, Holland, and Italy, provided French artists of the early 19th century with an unprecedented opportunity to study, compare, and copy masterworks from antiquity and from the entire history of European painting. From the beginning of his career, Ingres freely borrowed from earlier art, adopting the historical style appropriate to his subject, leading critics to charge him with plundering the past.
Newly arrived in Rome, Ingres read with mounting indignation the relentlessly negative press clippings sent to him from Paris by his friends. In letters to his prospective father-in-law, he expressed his outrage at the critics: “So the Salon is the scene of my disgrace; … The scoundrels, they waited until I was away to assassinate my reputation … I have never been so unhappy.”
He vowed never again to exhibit at the Salon, and his refusal to return to Paris led to the breaking up of his engagement. Julie Forestier, when asked years later why she had never married, responded, “When one has had the honor of being engaged to M. Ingres, one does not marry.”
Installed in a studio on the grounds of the Villa Medici, Ingres continued his studies and, as required of every winner of the Prix, he sent works at regular intervals to Paris so his progress could be judged. As his envoi of 1808 Ingres sent Oedipus and the Sphinx and The Valpinçon Bather (both now in the Louvre), hoping by these two paintings to demonstrate his mastery of the male and female nude, but they were poorly received.
In later years Ingres painted variants of both compositions; another nude begun in 1807, the Venus Anadyomene, remained in an unfinished state for decades, to be completed forty years later and finally exhibited in 1855.
He produced numerous portraits during this period: Madame Duvauçay, François-Marius Granet, Edme-François-Joseph Bochet, Madame Panckoucke, and that of Madame la Comtesse de Tournon, mother of the prefect of the department of the Tiber. In 1810 Ingres’s pension at the Villa Medici ended, but he decided to stay in Rome and seek patronage from the French occupation government.
Although facing uncertain prospects, in 1813 Ingres married a young woman, Madeleine Chapelle, who had been recommended to him by her friends in Rome. After a courtship carried out through correspondence, he proposed to her without having met her, and she accepted. Their marriage was a happy one, and Madame Ingres acquired a faith in her husband which enabled her to combat with courage and patience the difficulties of their common existence. He continued to suffer the indignity of disparaging reviews, as Don Pedro of Toledo Kissing the Sword of Henry IV, Raphael and the Fornarina (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University), several portraits, and the Interior of the Sistine Chapel met a generally hostile critical response at the Paris Salon of 1814.
Ingres traveled to Naples in the spring of 1814 to paint Queen Caroline Murat, and the Murat family ordered additional portraits as well as three modestly scaled works: The Betrothal of Raphael, La Grande Odalisque, and Paolo and Francesca. Apart from theBetrothal, however, he never received payment for these paintings, due to the collapse of the Murat regime in 1815.
With the fall of Napoleon’s dynasty, he found himself essentially stranded in Rome without patronage. During this low point of his career, Ingres was forced to depend for his livelihood on the execution, in pencil, of small portrait drawings of the many tourists, in particular the English, passing through postwar Rome. For an artist who aspired to a reputation as a history painter, this seemed menial work, and to the visitors who knocked on his door asking, “Is this where the man who draws the little portraits lives?”, he would answer with irritation, “No, the man who lives here is a painter!”
Nevertheless, the portrait drawings he produced in such profusion during this period are of outstanding quality, and rank today among his most admired works.
Ingres and his wife moved to Florence in 1820 at the urging of the Florentine sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini, an old friend from his years in Paris, who hoped that Ingres would improve his position materially, but Ingres, as before, had to rely on his drawings of tourists and diplomats for support. His friendship with Bartolini, whose worldly success in the intervening years stood in sharp contrast to Ingres’s poverty, quickly became strained, and Ingres found new quarters.
In 1821 he finished a painting commissioned by a childhood friend, Monsieur de Pastoret, the Entry of Charles V into Paris; de Pastoret also ordered a portrait of himself and a religious work (Virgin with the Blue Veil). The major undertaking of this period, however, was a commission obtained in August 1820 with the help of de Pastoret, to paint the Vow of Louis XIII for the Cathedral of Montauban. Recognizing this as an opportunity to establish himself as a painter of history, he spent four diligent years bringing the large canvas to completion, and he travelled to Paris with it in October 1824.
The Vow of Louis XIII, exhibited at the Salon of 1824, finally brought Ingres critical success. Conceived in a Raphaelesque style relatively free of the archaisms for which he had been reproached in the past, it was admired even by strict Davidians. Ingres found himself celebrated throughout France; in January 1825 he was awarded the Cross of the Légion d’honneur, and in June 1825 he was elected to the Institute. His fame was extended further in 1826 by the publication of Sudre’s lithograph of La Grande Odalisque, which, having been scorned by artists and critics alike in 1819, now became widely popular.
A commission from the government called forth the monumental Apotheosis of Homer, which Ingres eagerly finished in a year’s time. From 1826 to 1834 the studio of Ingres was thronged, and he was a recognized chef d’école who taught with authority and wisdom while working steadily. The critics came to regard Ingres as the standard-bearer of classicism against the romantic school — a role he relished. The paintings, primarily portraits, that he sent to the Salon in 1827 and 1833 were well received. The portrait of Louis-François Bertin (1832) was a particular success with the public, who found its realism spellbinding, although some of the critics found its naturalism vulgar and its colouring drab.
The thin-skinned artist was outraged, however, by the criticism of his ambitious canvas of the Martyrdom of Saint Symphorien (cathedral ofAutun), shown in the Salon of 1834. Resentful and disgusted, Ingres resolved never again to work for the public, and gladly availed himself of the opportunity to return to Rome, as director of the École de France, in the room of Horace Vernet. There, although the time he spent in administrative duties slowed the flow of paintings from his brush, he executed Antiochus and Stratonice (executed for Louis-Philippe, duc d’Orléans), Portrait of Luigi Cherubini, and the Odalisque with Slave, among other works.
One of only two works sent back to Paris during Ingres’ six year term as Director of the French Academy in Rome, the Stratonice was exhibited for several days in mid-August 1840 in the private apartment of the duc d’Orléans in the Pavilion Marsan of the Palais des Tuileries. While lampooned in Le Corsaire for its lofty subject matter yet extremely modest proportions (less than one metre across), overall the work was warmly received; so much so that on his return to Paris in June 1841, Ingres was received with all the deference that he felt was his due, including being received personally by King Louis-Philippe for a tour around Versailles. One of the first works executed after his return was a portrait of the duc d’Orléans, whose death in a carriage accident just weeks after the completion of the portrait sent the nation into mourning and led to orders for additional copies of the portrait.
The following year Ingres, at seventy-one years of age, married forty-three-year-old Delphine Ramel, a relative of his friend Marcotte d’Argenteuil. This marriage proved as happy as his first, and in the decade that followed Ingres completed several significant works. A major undertaking was the Apotheosis of Napoleon I, painted in 1853 for the ceiling of a hall in the Hôtel de Ville, Paris, and destroyed by fire in theCommune of 1871. The portrait of Princesse Albert de Broglie was also completed in 1853, and Joan of Arc appeared in 1854. The latter was largely the work of assistants, whom Ingres often entrusted with the execution of backgrounds. In 1855 Ingres consented to rescind his resolution, more or less strictly kept since 1834, in favour of the International Exhibition, where a room was reserved for his works.
The last of his important portrait paintings date from this period: Marie-Clothilde-Inés de Foucauld, Madame Moitessier, Seated (1856),Self-Portrait at the Age of Seventy-nine and Madame J.-A.-D. Ingres, née Delphine Ramel, both completed in 1859. The Turkish Bath, finished in a rectangular format in 1859, was revised in 1860 before being turned into a tondo. Ingres signed and dated it in 1862, although he made additional revisions in 1863.
Ingres’s style was formed early in life and changed comparatively little. His earliest drawings, such as the Portrait of a Man (3 July 1797, now in the Louvre) already show a suavity of outline and an extraordinary control of the parallel hatchings which model the forms. From the first, his paintings are characterized by a firmness of outline reflecting his often-quoted conviction that “drawing is the probity of art”.
He believed colour to be no more than an accessory to drawing, explaining: “Drawing is not just reproducing contours, it is not just the line; drawing is also the expression, the inner form, the composition, the modelling. See what is left after that. Drawing is seven eighths of what makes up painting.”
He abhorred the visible brushstroke and made no recourse to the shifting effects of colour and light on which the Romantic school depended; he preferred local colours only faintly modelled in light by half tones. “Ce que l’on sait,” he would repeat, “il faut le savoir l’épée à la main.” (“Whatever you know, you must know it with sword in hand.”) Ingres thus left himself without the means of producing the necessary unity of effect when dealing with crowded compositions, such as the Apotheosis of Homer and the Martyrdom of Saint Symphorien. Among Ingres’s historical and mythological paintings, the most satisfactory are usually those depicting one or two figures. InOedipus, Half-Length Bather, Odalisque, and The Spring, subjects only animated by the consciousness of perfect physical well-being, we find Ingres at his best.
In Roger Freeing Angelica, the female figure shows the finest qualities of Ingres’s work, while the effigy of Roger flying to the rescue on his hippogriff sounds a jarring note, for Ingres was rarely successful in the depiction of movement and drama. As Sanford Schwartz has noted, the “historical, mythological, and religious pictures bespeak huge amounts of energy and industry, but, conveying little palpable sense of inner tension, are costume dramas … The faces in the history pictures are essentially those of models waiting for the session to be over. When an emotion is to be expressed, it comes across stridently, or woodenly.”
Ingres’s choice of subjects reflected his literary tastes, which were severely limited: he read and reread Homer, Virgil, Plutarch, Dante, histories, and the lives of the artists. Throughout his life he revisited a small number of favourite themes, and painted multiple versions of many of his major compositions.He did not share his age’s enthusiasm for battle scenes, and generally preferred to depict “moments of revelation or intimate decision manifested by meeting or confrontation, but never by violence.” His numerous odalisque paintings were influenced to a great extent by the writings of Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the ambassador to Turkey whose diaries and letters, when published, fascinated European society.
Although capable of painting quickly, he often laboured for years over a painting. The Spring, although dated 1856, was painted in 1821, except for the head and the extremities; those who knew the work in its incomplete state professed that the after-painting, necessary to fuse new and old, lacked the vigour and precision of touch that distinguished the original execution of the torso. Ingres’s pupil Amaury-Duval wrote of him: “With this facility of execution, one has trouble explaining why Ingres’ oeuvre is not still larger, but he scraped out [his work] frequently, never being satisfied … and perhaps this facility itself made him rework whatever dissatisfied him, certain that he had the power to repair the fault, and quickly, too.”
Ingres died of pneumonia on 17 January 1867, at the age of eighty-six, having preserved his faculties to the last. He is interred in thePère Lachaise Cemetery in Paris with a tomb sculpted by his student Jean-Marie Bonnassieux. The contents of his studio, including a number of major paintings, over 4000 drawings, and his violin, were bequeathed by the artist to the city museum of Montauban, now known as the Musée Ingres.
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