Skip to main content


Ingres, Self-portrait
Self-portrait at age 24, 1804

Continuing with the greats of Neoclassicism, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was a giant both of France and Europe in his day. Born on August 29, 1780 his father was also a talented artist who encouraged Jean to pursue his vocation, and ultimately he developed a profound respect for Raphael that would influence both his drawing and painting for the rest of his career. A staunch Neoclassicist, he was very apprehensive of the oncoming wind that would become Romanticism, a reaction to the strictness of order and form that Ingres loved so dearly. Ironically, it is Ingres himself who would subtly distort his own anatomy in such a way that would have a deep influence on Modernism less than fifty years after his death.

Above we see one of the most youthful and inspiring self-portraits of any painter, which shows both Ingres as a handsome young man and a painter already at a level of a master. One can sense a certain vanity that accompanies artists of such calibre and in their immortal twenties: he frames himself in a red robe that somehow conveys the student and the artist, yet his face somehow has a youthful innocence. Maybe he knew he could paint but he yearned for more challenges.

Ingres valpincon
La Grande baigneuse, 1808

A painting that really needs no introduction, found everywhere in "high" pop culture nowadays, here looking at it we immediately sense Ingres' love of women and a distinct French style that is unmistakable. Look at how she seems to hide in the shadows, looking off into nowhere away from the viewer...if this isn't modern I don't know what is. Ingres manages to create a nude of a woman that is sympathetic and highly feminine. The way she slouches, as if tired, unwittingly conveys the old-fashioned Classicism as tired itself, instead revealing a modest woman whose skin is hypnotic and her coyness seemingly tells an inner story. Here we also see how Ingres distorts her foot in a way that is nearly amateurish but done deliberately, as if to announce that perfection is not real and not necessary to depict always.

Jean auguste dominique ingres princesse albert de broglie
Portrait of the Princess Albert de Broglie, 1853
click here for expandable Met version

Another very famous portrait of incredible detail that was a big influence on the moderns, this was his last commissioned female portrait and arguably his greatest. Having spent considerable time on the drapery and ornate tracery, he captures a woman with intelligence and grace that mesmerizes. Look at the subtle veil behind her head and the thin paint he uses to achieve this. We can also see a green glaze on parts of the blue drapery, which gives it a distinct texture to the glow of the fabric, and Ingres repeats this green on the edges of her hand and elbow. The simplicity of contrasting two colors, blue and yellow here with the greyish green shadow on the wall behind her is so captivating yet surreal. On the yellow chair we also see her accoutrements: white gloves, a hat, fan, a scarf perhaps...yet it is the way Ingres uses her jewelry to convey her importance and social status that intrigues us. Ingres creates a portrait that is unusually formal and sensual at the same time. She died of tuberculosis at the height of her beauty and her husband treasured this portrait in her honor.

Niccolo Paganini, 1819

It is worth mentioning also that Ingres made a significant amount of portrait drawings, of which over 450 survive, that he made during his years in Rome to make extra income. Ingres played the violin also, and was good friends with Paganini depicted here in a graceful and stylish pose. These drawings apparently took only four hours to produce, and Ingres used only graphite pencil and wove paper. Ingres also has the unique distinction of having a type of drawing paper named after him.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Apotheosis of Homer, 1827
Apotheosis of Homer,1827

One of Ingres' most elaborate paintings, it is said over a hundred drawings were made in preparation for it. Look closely and you can see a few famous faces, including Poussin, Raphael (lead by the hand by Apelles), Dante, Molière, among others. Note the two women as sibyl-like in green and orange, a reference to Michelangelo. The deep blue sky seems to mimic a dawn, using deep blues and yellows.

La Grande Odalisque, 1814

One of the most beautiful nudes of all time, this famous painting once again reveals Ingres fascination with beauty yet unravelling the anatomical for the smoothness of tactile skin. Considered almost Mannerist by some in its contorted pose, Ingres creates the feminine mystique with that hint of modesty and coyness in her body language, with her hand attempting to pull the drapery over her left leg. Her gaze is direct and self-assured, however...somehow reminiscent of that young man in the self-portrait of age twenty-four. Ingres tells us that what we leave out or suggest is equally important as what we depict, if not more so. The love of blue fabric and the ornate details also suggest a world that is already growing in narcissism, that beauty is really synonymous with youth, and materialism is more important than nature. Had Ingres lived another fifty years he would have reeled at what direction his beloved Classicism sank into.


Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.
Robert Henri

Charles Louis Müller, A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864

Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755

One of several Academic nude studies by Mengs, this …


Nymphs and Satyr, 1873

If there is one artist today that hardly needs an introduction, it would be William-Adolphe Bouguereau, supreme giant of 19th century Academic art. Born on November 30, 1825 in La Rochelle on the southwest of France, his talent would define the era he lived in only to fall into obscurity for decades after his death in 1905 until as recent as the early 1980's, shockingly. Today he has the distinction of being lionized by the Art Renewal Center as one of the greatest artists of all time while at the other end of the spectrum vilified by modernists as artificially perfect and sentimental. In fact it is quite rare to see such polarization over an artist of a calibre like Bouguereau, whose bravura is difficult to equal yet at the same time thematically his work admittedly tends toward women and children, a subject matter that sold well and he had endless patience for. Over the vast array of his oeuvre, some 820 paintings, I have tried to find some of his very b…

Pompeo Batoni

Apollo and two Muses, 1719

Giant of the Rococo and early Neoclassicism, Pompeo Batoni was born on January 25, 1708 in Lucca, Italy. Immensely popular in his time, his name sadly is not commonly recognized today because like many Old Masters, his work is not defined by one or two singular masterpieces but by an oeuvre that is overall, incredible. Batoni is something of an anomaly in that he had the midas touch in every genre he worked in, whether portraiture, mythological, and biblical. He trained under a few painters, notably Sebastiano Conca yet he quickly fused his own style together by reinterpreting Classicism with his own vigor for dynamic posing, color and anatomy that he felt was lacking in many artists of the Rococo. His reputation as a portraitist in Rome was highly successful, particularly for many British patrons of the Grand Tour who had heard of Batoni by word of mouth and sought his genius.

In Apollo and two Muses above Batoni seems to conjure mythology and Classicism w…