Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, French (1780 - 1867)

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

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.
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.[4] 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 the neoclassical painter Guillaume-Joseph Roques. Roques' veneration of Raphael was a decisive influence on the young artist. Ingres won prizes in several disciplines, such as composition, "figure and antique", and life studies. His musical talent was developed under the tutelage of the violinist Lejeune, and from the ages of thirteen to sixteen he played second violin in the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse.

In March 1797, the Academy awarded Ingres first prize in drawing, and in August 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, the Grand 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 Salon with 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, and Ghent, all of which were newly ceded to France in the 1801 Treaty of Lunéville. Napoleon is not known to have granted the artists a sitting, and Ingres's 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. Although he had hoped to stay in Paris long enough to witness the opening of that year's Salon, in which he was to display several works, he reluctantly left for Italy just days before the opening. 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 Italy and the Low Countries, 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.

In 1811 Ingres finished his final student exercise, the immense Jupiter and Thetis, which was once again harshly judged in Paris. Ingres was stung; the public was indifferent, and the strict classicists among his fellow artists looked upon him as a renegade. Only Eugène Delacroix and other pupils of Pierre-Narcisse Guérin—the leaders of that romantic movement for which Ingres throughout his long life always expressed the deepest abhorrence—seem to have recognized his merits.

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 was regarded as an effective teacher and was beloved by his students. The best known of them is Théodore Chassériau, who studied with him from 1830, as a precocious eleven-year-old, until Ingres closed his studio in 1834 to return to Rome. Ingres considered Chassériau his truest disciple—even predicting, according to an early biographer, that he would be "the Napoleon of painting". By the time Chassériau visited Ingres in Rome in 1840, however, the younger artist's growing allegiance to the romantic style of Delacroix was apparent, leading Ingres to disown his favourite student, of whom he subsequently spoke rarely and censoriously. No other artist who studied under Ingres succeeded in establishing a strong identity; among the most notable of them were Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, Henri Lehmann, and Eugène Emmanuel Amaury-Duval.

Ingres's influence on later generations of artists has been considerable. His most significant heir was Degas, who studied under Louis Lamothe, a minor disciple of Ingres. In the 20th century, Picasso and Matisse were among those who acknowledged a debt to the great classicist; Matisse described him as the first painter "to use pure colours, outlining them without distorting them." Pierre Barousse, the Keeper of the Musée Ingres, has written:
The case of Ingres is certainly disturbing when one realizes in how many ways a variety of artists claim him as their master, from the most plainly conventional of the nineteenth century such as Cabanel or Bouguereau, to the most revolutionary of our century from Matisse to Picasso. A classicist? Above all, he was moved by the impulse to penetrate the secret of natural beauty and to reinterpret it through its own means; an attitude fundamentally different to that of David ... there results a truly personal and unique art admired as much by the Cubists for its plastic autonomy, as by the Surrealists for its visionary qualities.

Barnett Newman credited Ingres as a progenitor of abstract expressionism, explaining: "That guy was an abstract painter ... He looked at the canvas more often than at the model. Kline, de Kooning—none of us would have existed without him."

Ingres's well-known passion for playing the violin gave to the French language a colloquialism, "violon d'Ingres", meaning a second skill beyond the one by which a person is mainly known. The American avant-garde artist Man Ray used this expression as the title of a famous photograph portraying Alice Prin (aka Kiki de Montparnasse) in the pose of the Valpinçon Bather.


His actual skill on the violin is a matter of dispute. He played Beethoven string quartets with Niccolò Paganini. In an 1839 letter, Franz Liszt described his playing as "charming", and planned to play through all the Mozart and Beethoven violin sonatas with Ingres. Liszt also dedicated his transcriptions of the 5th and 6th symphonies of Beethoven to Ingres on their original publication in 1840. Charles Gounod was non-committal, merely noting that "he was not a professional, even less a virtuoso". But Sir Charles Hallé was scathing, writing "He thought less of his paintings than his violin playing, which, to say the least of it, was vile".

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