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Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres | Neoclassical painter



Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres [1780-1867] was a French* Neoclassicist painter. Although he thought of himself as a painter of history in the tradition of Nicolas Poussin and Jacques-Louis David, by the end of his life it was his 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, as 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's style was formed early in life and changed comparatively little. His earliest drawings, such as the Portrait of a Man (or Portrait of an unknown, 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. In Oedipus, The 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. According to Sanford Schwartz, 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. 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". The Source, although dated 1856, was painted about 1820, except for the head and the extremities; Amaury-Duval, 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.

By the time of Ingres's retrospective at the Exposition Universelle in 1855, an emerging consensus viewed his portrait paintings as his masterpieces.



Their consistently high quality belies Ingres's often-stated complaint that the demands of portraiture robbed him of time he could have spent painting historical subjects. The most famous of all of Ingres's portraits, depicting the journalist Louis-François Bertin, quickly became a symbol of the rising economic and political power of the bourgeoisie. His portraits of women range from the warmly sensuous Madame de Senonnes (1814) to the realistic Mademoiselle Jeanne Gonin (1821), the Junoesque Marie-Clothilde-Inés de Foucauld, Madame Moitessier (portrayed standing and seated, 1851 and 1856), and the chilly Joséphine-Eléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn, Princesse de Broglie (1853).





His portrait drawings, of which about 450 are extant, are today among his most admired works. While a disproportionate number of them date from his difficult early years in Italy, he continued to produce portrait drawings of his friends until the end of his life.
Agnes Mongan has written of the portrait drawings:
Before his departure in the fall of 1806 from Paris for Rome, the familiar characteristics of his drawing style were well established, the delicate yet firm contour, the definite yet discreet distortions of form, the almost uncanny capacity to seize a likeness in the precise yet lively delineation of features.

The preferred materials were also already established: the sharply pointed graphite pencil on a smooth white paper. So familiar to us are both the materials and the manner that we forget how extraordinary they must have seemed at the time ... Ingres' manner of drawing was as new as the century. It was immediately recognized as expert and admirable. If his paintings were sternly criticized as "Gothic", no comparable criticism was leveled at his drawings.




His student Robert Balze described Ingres's working routine in executing his portrait drawings, each of which required four hours, as "an hour and a half in the morning, then two-and-a-half hours in the afternoon, he very rarely retouched it the next day. He often told me that he got the essence of the portrait while lunching with the model who, off guard, became more natural". Ingres drew his portrait drawings on wove paper, which provided a smooth surface very different from the ribbed surface of laid paper (which is, nevertheless, sometimes referred to today as "Ingres paper").

Drawings made in preparation for paintings, such as the many nude studies for The Martyrdom of St. Symphorien and The Golden Age, are more varied in size and treatment than are the portrait drawings. He also drew a number of landscape views while in Rome, but he painted only one pure landscape, the small tondo Raphael's Casino (although two other small landscape tondos are sometimes attributed to him).



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".








































Portrait of Niccolò Paganini, 1819
Portrait of Niccolò Paganini, 1819

INGRES, Jean-Auguste-Dominique - Pittore, nato a Montauban il 29 agosto 1780, morto a Parigi il 14 gennaio 1867. In un primo tempo allievo del padre, decoratore e miniatore non privo di talento; giunto a Parigi poco prima della rivoluzione di Termidoro (agosto 1799) entrò nello studio di L. David, occupato allora con il celebre quadro Le Sabine. L'I. si fece presto notare dal maestro e pare abbia collaborato al ritratto della signora Récamier; tutta la vita rimase fedele al grande riformatore della pittura, pur rimproverandogli l'enfasi, l'abuso dell'imitazione della statuaria antica, la mancanza di spontaneità. Sin dalla giovinezza l'I., pur dotato di un gusto squisito e di un sentimento musicale della linea, fu un deciso realista e nella sua opera fuse in modo unico l'arabesco decorativo e il senso voluttuoso della vita.
Nel 1801 ottenne il premio di Roma, ove però poté recarsi solo dopo cinque anni; durante quel periodo si rese noto a Parigi con una serie di ritratti (La famiglia Rivière, Louvre; La bella Zélie, 1806, Rouen; Il primo console, Liegi; l'Autoritratto, Chantilly). Seguirono i ritratti dipinti a Roma e a Napoli: Signora Devauåay (Chantilly); Signora de Senones (Nantes); Il pittore Granet (Aix in Provenza); Bartolini; Signor Cordier, ecc.; ritratti la cui potenza non trova uguale che nell'opera dei maestri del Rinascimento.
Giunto a Roma nel 1806 pensionato di Villa Medici, l'artista rimase circa vent'anni in Italia. Appartengono a questo periodo le sue opere principali: Edipo (1808, Louvre), Giove e Teti (1811, Aix in Provenza), i quadri destinati agli appartamenti dell'Imperatore nel Quirinale, commessigli dal governatore Miollis: Romolo vincitore (1812, Scuola di belle arti, Parigi); il Sogno di Ossian (Montauban) e quelli per Villa Aldobrandini (Virgilio legge l'Eneide, 1813, oggi a Bruxelles). Colpisce in queste opere un fare da primitivo, l'assenza d'ogni retorica, lo stile talmente severo da parer arido, lo spirito che si può dire arcaicizzante; vi si sente infatti l'influenza delle sculture d'Egina, oggi a Monaco, allora nello studio del Thorwaldsen, ma anche quella dei grandi maestri italiani del '300 (l'ultimo disegno dell'I., eseguito a oltre 86 anni, pochi giorni prima della morte, è una copia della Deposizione di Giotto all'Arena di Padova). Ma la parte più originale della sua opera è costituita dalla serie di studî femminili allora iniziati, il suo poema sulla donna e sulla bellezza concepita all'antica, lunga serie di figurazioni di plastica perfezione, sogno di tutta la sua lunga vita; creò allora i temi prediletti, la Bagnante (1807, Parigi Louvre; Baiona), l'Odalisca (1814), la Sorgente (Louvre), Nascita di Venere, Stratonice, tutta la materia elegiaca e nostalgica, culminante nell'Età dell'oro (Castello di Dampierre, 1841-49), e nel Bagno turco (1859, Louvre).



Simili opere estranee alle tendenze contemporanee, schive di ogni ricerca drammatica o aneddotica, crearono intorno all'artista la solitudine più assoluta. Per quanto cercasse di assicurarsi una certa notorietà dipingendo numerose scene nel gusto dell'epoca (Paolo e Francesca, Angers; il Maresciallo di Berwick, l'Aretino, la Morte di Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello e la Fornarina, Ruggero libera Angelica, 1819, ecc.), l'I. rimaneva sempre un incompreso. Viveva allora a Firenze (1820), e per guadagnarsi da vivere eseguiva, per un luigi, piccoli ritratti con il bianco di piombo, i celebri "crayons d'I.", oggi tanto ricercati e che gli venivano procurati dai portieri d'albergo. I più celebri fra di essi sono i ritratti della famiglia Stamaty (Bayonne) e della famiglia di Luciano Bonaparte (Museo napoleonico, Roma).

Imperversava allora il movimento romantico; Delacroix, Devéria trionfavano al Salon del 1824, quando il grande quadro Il voto di Luigi XIII (cattedrale di Montauban), presentato dall'I richiamò l'attenzione generale sul solitario di Firenze, che divenne da un giorno all'altro il campione dei classicisti. Nominato membro dell'Institut (1825), il suo studio divenne il centro di diffusione "della giusta dottrina". Si volle vedere un manifesto della reazione nel celebre soffitto del Louvre con l'Apoteosi d'Omero (1827), che consacrò l'autore capo della scuola classicista e apostolo del buon gusto. Dopo l'esecuzione del magnifico quadro Martirio di S. Sinforiano (Autun, v.), l'I. fu nominato direttore di Villa Medici (1834-41) ed esercitò un'influenza decisiva sull'andamento della scuola; fu però anche l'ultimo maestro del sec. XIX che avesse una dottrina, un insegnamento da impartire ai suoi discepoli, alcuni dei quali, J.-H. Flandrin, E.-E. Amaury-Duval, V. Orsel, L. Janmot e specialmente il mirabile T. Chassériau gli compongono intorno un corteo trionfale, accrescendone la gloria. In nessun'opera troviamo la sensualità, il sapore carnale, la languida e magica poesia che pervade le opere principali del maestro sessantenne: Venere Anadiomene, Sorgente, Odalisca con la schiava, slancio giovanile che sembra risalire al periodo romano, per sbocciare e fiorire nelle stupende pitture già ricordate dall'Età dell'oro e del Bagno turco, ove il tormento generato dalla bellezza, l'ebbrezza nata dalla felicità assumono un aspetto lirico e demoniaco dimenticato dopo il Correggio e Tiziano*.



Appartengono alla stessa epoca numerosi ritratti celebri, tra i quali basta ricordare i più noti: ritratto di Edoardo Bertin (1832, Louvre), del conte Morlé (1834), del Pastorel, della signora d'Haussonville (1842), del musicista Cherubini (1844, Louvre), del duca d'Orléans, della contessa di Rothschild (1848), ecc. Tra le ultime opere dell'artista eseguite durante il Secondo Impero, sono il soffitto dell'Hôtel de Ville con l'Apoteosi di Napoleone (1853), bruciato sotto la Comune (alcuni studî preparatorî si trovano al Louvre) e alcuni quadri di soggetto religioso, alquanto freddi: Giovanna d'Arco (1854, Louvre), la Vergine con l'ostia (1854, Louvre) e finalmente il glaciale quadro di Montauban, Gesù tra i dottori (1866), opera mediocre per la quale il vecchio maestro fece anche alcuni studî di una divina perfezione.
L'I. toccò, nella seconda parte della sua vita, l'apogeo della gloria. Dopo l'esposizione del 1855 era stato nominato grande ufficiale della Legion d'onore. Egli godeva d'una situazione mai più vista dopo Raffaello e Michelangelo. Bisogna però riconoscere che tanta autorità gli veniva in parte conferita dall'atteggiamento riservato e ostile assunto di fronte alle nuove idee, da una ristrettezza di vedute che lo spinse, per esempio, a escludere lo Shakespeare dall'Omero divinizzato del 1862, mentre l'aveva incluso nel quadro del 1827.


L'I. fu la piattaforma dell'accademismo dopo esserne stato per 30 anni lo spauracchio; per un curioso paradosso il difensore della tradizione fu dotato di un genio assolutamente personale e anticonvenzionale, sicché tutta la sua opera pare una sfida ai principî attribuitigli. La sua opera detta "classica" è il frutto di una sensibilità esclusiva, dei preconcetti più strani, di una concezione poetica e pura della forma audace e reale, di un'inaudita raffinatezza.
L'amore della melopea ricercata e serpentina, assorbente e decorativa, lo spirito intensamente contemplativo, l'arte che riduce il corpo umano, particolarmente quello femminile, a un geroglifico, espressione di un linguaggio quasi musicale, che sdegna ogni effetto e ogni volgare somiglianza, ne fanno un artista sperduto nel proprio secolo quanto il Baudelaire.
Lo scultore A.-A. Préault, per definire la complessa sensazione provata innanzi alla sua arte, soleva definirlo "un cinese sperduto nelle vie di Atene".
E infatti a lui si riallacciano, più che a qualsiasi altro suo contemporaneo, artisti moderni quali il Degas, il Renoir della seconda maniera, e a lui fanno risalire le proprie teorie fauvisti e superrealisti che trovano nella sua opera l'origine dei loro principî sulla deformazione e sulla stilizzazione.
Un altro autoritratto dell'I. è dal 1858 agli Uffizî. Il Museo Ingres in Montauban conserva alcuni dipinti e più di 4000 disegni. | © Louis Gillet, Treccani - Enciclopedia Italiana



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