Open today: 10:00 to 5:00
Born in 1780 in the southern French town of Montauban, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres had early instruction from his father, an artist in the town's employ. The boy showed a precocious musical and artistic talent. Aged twelve, he was enrolled at the Academy of Toulouse, under the painter Joseph Roques, a friend of Jacques-Louis David. Still uncertain of his vocation, Ingres kept up his musical interest, supporting himself by playing the violin in the theater of Toulouse. In 1797 he left for Paris to study with David who was then at work on his Battle of Romans and Sabines. Disputes at the time troubled the master's teaching studio. It contained, besides docile followers, some rough bohemians (Crassons) at war with fellow pupils of a royalist or Catholic bent (Muscadins). Keeping aloof from these factions, a handful of principled dissidents aspired to an art more pure and genuinely "antique" than David's. Steeped in early literature and archaic art, in Homer, Ossian, and the Bible, they made themselves conspicuous by wearing beards and Greek costume and were known derisively as Barbus or Primitifs. Though not himself a member of this group, Ingres sympathized with them, and in his own student work affected a severe linearity that implied a reaction against his master's more moderate classicism. David nevertheless recognized his talent and used him as his assistant in the execution of the Portrait of Madame Récamier. Admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Ingres won the Rome Prize of 1801 with The Ambassadors of Agamemnon in the Tent of Achilles (Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris). While a shortage of state funds delayed his departure for Italy, he lived in a community of young artists housed in a disused monastery. Medieval sculptures in the Musée des Petits-Augustins, the salvage of churches pillaged during the Revolution, deepened his taste for early styles. His studies at the Louvre, where Napoleon had assembled masterworks of the early Italians and Flemings, offered him further alternatives to Davidian classicism. At the Salon of 1806 his originality as an exacting stylist was manifested in the three portraits of Philibert Rivière, Mme Rivière, and Mlle Rivière (Louvre) -intricately designed, nearly shadowless figures, formed of distinct areas of color. They were ignored by the critics, but a fourth painting, of commanding size, Napoleon on the Imperial Throne (Musée de l'Armée, Paris), scandalized them by its static symmetry and hard, "Gothic" artificiality.
In 1806 Ingres finally took his place among the pensioners of the French Academy in Rome. He used the four years of his stipend to immerse himself in the work of the Renaissance masters, Raphael above all, but his eyes were also open to medieval and Byzantine art. Several masterly portraits mark the early years of his Roman stay, among them those of Mme Devauçay (1807, Musée Condé, Chantilly) and of François-Marius Granet (c. 1807, Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence). Required to show proof of his progress, he submitted deeply calculated studies of the nude, finished off by the addition of narrative detail, Oedipus and the Sphinx and the "Valpincon Bather" in 1808 (both, Louvre) and Jupiter and Thetis in 1811 (Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence). After his stipend expired in 1810, he prolonged his stay in Rome by making portraits of its French administrators, among them that of his future patron and lifelong friend, Marcotte d'Argenteuil (1810, National Gallery of Art, 1952.2.24). He was among the painters charged with the decoration of the Quirinale Palace, chosen as residence for Napoleon's infant son, the king of Rome. His share consisted of two large paintings, The Dream of Ossian (1813, Musée Ingres, Montauban), a luridly romantic subject ill-suited to his talent, and Romulus Victorious over Acron (1812, Louvre), executed in tempera to simulate fresco and composed as a frieze recalling works by John Flaxman (1755-1826) in its two-dimensionality. Among his Napoleonic patrons was Caroline Murat, sister of the emperor and queen of Naples, for whom he painted the Grand Odalisque (1814, Louvre), a woman of the harem reclining in a posture reminiscent of David's Madame Récamier for which Ingres had painted the accessories. The steely finish and the extravagant elongations and sinuosities of this nude troubled the reviewers of the Paris Salon, where the picture was shown in 1819. Painted for his friend Marcotte at about the same time, but in a totally different style, the National Gallery's Pope Pius VII in the Sistine Chapel (1952.2.23) presents a modern scene in minute detail and with great painterly subtlety.
In 1814 the collapse of the French government in Rome deprived Ingres of patronage and reduced him to making a meager living for himself and Madeleine Chapelle, his young bride, by drawing portraits of visiting foreigners. At this juncture, the fashion for small, genrelike paintings of historical subjects came to his aid. With his gift for minute execution, he composed scenes from the lives or legends of famous men with conscientiously researched detail. His painted anecdotes--Henry IV and the Spanish Ambassador (1817, PetitPal), The Death of Leonardo da Vinci (1818, PetitPal), and others of this kind--have the bright distinctness of manuscript illuminations. To the Salon of 1819 he submitted, besides the Odalisque of 1814, a scene from Ariosto, Roger Saving Angelica from the Dragon (Louvre), which made effective use of the contrast between the golden gleam of Roger's armor and Angelica's fleshy whiteness, highlit against the lugubrious darkness of cliff and sea. The critics were hostile, but the picture was bought by the State.
In 1817 Ingres received his first major commission from the Restoration government then in the process of refurbishing churches neglected since the Revolution. It called for an altarpiece representing Christ Delivering the Keys to Saint Peter to be installed in the French church of Santa Trinita dei Monti in Rome (1820, now Musée Ingres, Montauban) and was followed in 1820 by an even larger charge, the execution of The Vow of Louis XIII (completed 1824) for the cathedral of Montauban, Ingres' native city. Drawing heavily on motifs from Raphael and carried out with the help of many model studies, these projects occupied him for nearly a decade. Ingres, who had meanwhile moved to Florence, in 1824 accompanied The Vow of Louis XIII to Paris, where it won a resounding success at the Salon. Long accustomed to critical abuse, he now became the object of flattering attention from an art administration that, threatened by the hostility of the younger artists and the rising tide of romanticism, needed a leader strong enough to take David's place. In this emergency, Ingres seemed--despite his eccentricities--a possible defender of the traditions of great art. Awarded the Legion of Honor and elected to the academy, he was persuaded to remain in France, where he opened a teaching studio in 1825 and became David's heir as the most influential teacher of the unruly young and groomer of Rome Prize winners. He may have been unaware of the strategy that had led to his elevation and was, at any rate, ill cast in the role of academician, being of independent mind and opposed to academic routine.
Important official commissions now came his way. For a newly decorated gallery of the Louvre, he was assigned an ideologically significant subject, the Apotheosis of Homer (1827), which he conceived as an homage to classical authority and affirmation of the continuity of tradition. In two hundred drawings and more than thirty painted studies, he calculated every detail of the composition but curiously failed to consider its ultimate function as a ceiling panel. At the Salon of 1827, it appeared as the conservative counterweight to Delacroix' anarchical Death of Sardanapalus (Louvre). Both pictures failed to please: Ingres' work was considered a bore, Delacroix', the ravings of a lunatic.
The Revolution of 1830 found Ingres at his post as national guardsman, protecting, rifle in hand, the Italian masters at the Louvre. The liberal monarchy of Louis-Philippe gave him honors but little work. It named him president of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but the great commission that occupied him in the 1830s, the Martyrdom of Saint Symphorian (1826-1834) for Autun cathedral, had been given him by the previous regime. He labored over it for nearly ten years, only to find that, when shown at the Salon of 1834, it was dismissed by the critics as outmoded in style and subject matter. Deeply angered, Ingres declared that he would never show his work in Paris again and departed for Rome to assume the directorship of the French Academy. His output during his six-year term at the Villa Medici was relatively small, culminating in two paintings, Odalisque with Slave, an oriental fantasy (1839, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts), and Antiochus and Stratonice (1840, Musée Condé, Chantilly), painted for the duc d'Orléans, the king's eldest son. A classical subject staged with minute attention to archaeological detail, this picture was shown at the Palace of the Tuileries. Its popular success enabled Ingres to make a triumphal return to France.
Much of his energy during the following decade was spent on the project of a large mural decoration on the themes of the Age of Gold and the Age of Iron for the château of the duc de Luynes at Dampierre. Begun in 1842, Age of Gold, which Ingres planned as an image of humanity's primeval existence in a state of ideal beauty, developed into a dreamlike congestion of nudes in an Arcadian setting. Discouraged after years of effort, he left the project unfinished in 1850 but returned to its subject in 1862, in a painting of small size (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts). It was in several portraits of society wornen--Vicomtesse d'Haussonville (1845), Baroness Rothschild (1848), Madame Moitessier (1851, National Gallery of Art, 1946.7.18), Princesse de Broglie (1853), and Madame Moitessier Seated (1856)--that Ingres achieved the monumentality that had eluded him in work of wall-size dimensions.
His wife's death in 1849 cast him into a depression that prompted him to resign his professorship at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but his marriage in 1852, at age seventy-two, to Delphine Ramel, a relative of his friend Marcotte, revived his spirits and renewed his self-confidence. The government of Napoleon III commissioned him in 1853 to paint an Apotheosis of Napoleon I for a ceiling at the Hôte1 de Ville (destroyed in 1871) and honored him with a grand retrospective exhibition at the Universal Exposition of 1855. Like David, who in his old age had turned to erotic subjects, the aged Ingres showed a renewed interest in the female nude, causing him to revisit motifs from his own earlier work: Venus Anadyomene (1848, Musée Condé, Chantilly) completed a composition begun in 1808; La Source (1856, Louvre), a boldly frontal nude, was the reworking of a canvas begun in 1820; Turkish Bath (Louvre), finished in 1862 after changes of format and details, comprised in its crowded composition a repertoire of his earlier nudes.
Ingres was eighty-two years old when he signed this picture. In the same year he was appointed to the French Senate. He died, after a brief illness in January 1867, aged eighty-seven and still in vigorous mental and physical health. Having all his life shown a dislike of the academy and an aversion to the Salon, he was adopted by the establishment in the latter part of his career and perversely miscast in the role of archconservative. As such he has long figured in the history of art, though his work proclaims him to have been a stylist of daring individuality, whose single-minded dedication to an ideal of beauty based on difficult harmonies of line and color, on the music of relationships, and the mathematics of form, assures him a place apart. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]