Monday, September 3, 2007
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)
Drawing is the probity of art. To draw does not mean simply to reproduce contours; drawing does not consist merely of line: drawing is also expression, the inner form, the plane, modeling. See what remains after that.
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A French painter, b. at Montauban, 29 August, 1780; d. at Paris, 14 January, 1867. His father sent him to study at Toulouse. At the age of sixteen he entered into the famous studio of David, in Paris. Steeped in the theories of Mengs and Wincklemann, he had broken away from the conceits and libertinism of the eighteenth century and led art back to nature and the antique. In Davids view the antiques was but the highest expression of life, freed from all that is merely transitory, and removed from the caprices from whim and fashion. Ingres accepted his master's programme in its entirety. But what in David's case made up a homogenous system, answering the twin faculties of his vast and powerful organism, meant quite another matter for the pupil. The young artist was gifted with a wondrous sensitiveness for reality. No one has ever experienced such sharp, penetrating, clear cut impressions with an equal aptitude for transferring them in their entirety to paper or canvas. But these exceptional gifts were handicpped by an extreme lack of inventiveness and originality. Unfortunatley David's teaching filled him with the belief that high art consisted in imitating the antique, and that the dignity of a painter constrained him to paint historical subjects. Throughout his life Ingres did violence to himself to paint scenes of the order of his master's Sabines, as he suceeded in doing in his Achilles receiving the messengers of Agamemnon (Pais, Ecole des Beaux-Arts), which in 1801 won the "Prix de Rome". but instead of being a living historical or poetical scene, this painting is but a collection of studies, stitched together with effort, and without any real unity of result.
Thus it was that there was always in Ingres a curious contradiction between his temperament and his education, between his ability and his theories. And this secret struggle between his realistic longings and his idealistic convictions explains the discords of his work. In the beginning, however, his youth was the main factor. Perhaps, too, his obscurity, the dearth of important orders, and the necessity of earning his living were all in his favour. Never was he greater or more himself than during this period of his career (1800-1820). His absoulte realism and his intransigeance caused him to be looked on in David's school as an eccentric and revolutionary individual. Ingres had been friendly with a Florentine sculptor named Bartolini, and was strongly atracted by the works of the early Renaissance period, and by that art throbbing with life, and almost feverish in its manner of depicting nature, such as we find examples of in the works of Donatello and Filippo Lippi. He grew enthusiastic over archaic schools, over the weird poems of Ossian, over Medieval costumes, in a word, over everything which by being unconventional seemed to him to draw nearer to reality, or at least gave him new thrills and sensations. He was put down as "Gotic", as an imitatior of Jean de Bruges (Jan van Eyck) and all the works he produced at this time bear the mark of oddity. This is especially true of his prtraits. Those of Madame Riviere (Louvre, 1804), Granet (Aix-en-Provence, 1806), Madame Aymon "La Belle Zelie)" (Rouen, 1806), Madame Devan (Chantilly, 1807), and of Madame Se Senones (Nantes, 1810) are unrivalled in all the world, and take a place next to the immortal creations of Titian and Raphael. Never was there completer absence of "manner", forgetfulenss of set purpose, of systematic or poetical effort, never did a painter give himself up more fully torealism, or submit more absoultely to his model, to the object before him. No work brings home to us more clearly the expression of something definite unless it be those little portrait sketches drawn by this same artist in the days of his poverty and sold at twenty francs each, and which are now famous as the "Ingres crayons". The finest are to be seen at the Louvre and in the Bonnat Collection at Paris and Bayonne.
In 1806 Ingres set out for Rome, and in the Vatican he saw the frescoes of the greatest of the decorators, the master of the Parnassus and the School of Athens. He at once persuaded himself that this was absolute beauty, and that these paintings held within them formula and concepts revealing a full definition of art and of its immutable laws. And it is to this mistake of his that we owe not a few of his finest works; for had he not wrongly thought himself a classicist, he would not have felt himself bound to adopt the essential constituent of the classical language, namely, the nude figure. The nude, in modern realism, hints at the unusual, suggests something furtive and secret, and takes a place in the programme of the realists only as something exceptional. Whereas with Ingres, thanks to the classical idealism of his doctrine, the nude was always a most important and sacred object of study. And to this study he applied, as in all his undertakings, a delicacy and freshness of feeling, an accuracy of observation toned down by a slightly sensual touch of charm, which place these paintings among his most precious works. Never was the joy of drawing and painting a beautiful body, of reproducing it in all the glory and grace of tis youth, mastered by a Frenchman to such an extent, nor in a way so akin to the art of the great painters. OEdipus and the Girl Bathing (1808), the Odalisque (1814), the Source (1818) -- all these canvases are in the Louvre -- are among the most beautiful poems consecrated to setting forht the noblest meaning of the human figure. And yet they remain but incomparable "studies". The painter is all the whhile incapable of blending his sensations, of harmonizing them with one another so as to form a tableau.
This same taste for what is quaint led Ingres at this period to produce a host of minor anecdotal or historical works such as Raphael and the Fornarina, Francesca da rimini (1819, in the Angers Museum), etc., works that at times display the wit, the romance, and the caprice of a quattrocento miniature. here the style becomes a part of the reality, and the archaism of the one only serves to bring out more clearly the originality of the other. In work of this order nothing the artist has left us is more complete than his Sixtine Chapel (Louvre, 1814). This magnificent effort, small in size though it is, is perhaps the most complete, the best balanced, the soundest piece of work the master ever wrought. At this time David, exiled by the Restoration, left the French school without a head, while the Romantic school, with the Medusa of Gericault (1818) and the Dante of Delacroix (1822), was clamouring for recognition. Ingres, hitherto but little known in his solitude in Italy, resolved to return to France and strike a daring blow. As early as 1820 he sent to the Salon his Christ conferring the keys on Peter (Louvre), a cold and restrained work which won immense success among the classicists. The Vow of Louis XIII (Montauban, 1824), a homage to Raphael, appeared opportunely as a contrast to Delacrois's Massacre of Scio. Henceforward Ingres was looked up to as the leader of the traditional School, and he proves his claim to the title by producing the famous Apotheosis of Homer (Louvre, 1827).
This marks the beginning of a new period, in which Ingres, absorbed in decorative works, is nothing more than the upholder of the classical teaching. Over and over again he did himself violence in composing huge mechanical works like the St. Symphorin (Autun, 1835), The Golden Age (Dampierre, 1843-49), the Apotheosis of Napoleon, Jesus in the midst of the Doctors (Montauban, 1862), works that entailed most persevering labour, and which after all are but groups of Studies, mosaics carefully inset and lifeless. Some of Ingres most beautiful portraits, those of Armand Bertin (Louvre, 1831), of Cherubini (Louvre, 1842), and of Madame d'Haussonville (1845) belong to this period. But gradually he gave up portrait- painting, and wished only to be the painter of the ideal. yet he was less so now than ever before. In his latest works his deficiency of composition becomes more and more evident. His life was uneventful. In 1820 he left Rome for Florence, and in 1824 he settled in Paris, which he never left save for six years (1836-1842) which he spent in Rome as director of the Villa Medici. He died at the age of 87, having continued to work up to his last day. perhaps his prestige and his high authority counted for something in the Renaissance of decorative painting that took place in the middle of the nineteenth century. But his undoubted legacy was a principle of quaintness or oddity and eccentricity, which was copied by artists like Signol and Jeanniot. Ingres was a naturalist who persisted in practising the most idealistic style of art which was ever attempted in the French School. Like his great rival delacrois, he may be said to have been a lonely phenomenon in the art of the nineteenth century. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.]
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