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Montauban 1780–1867 Paris

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was the chief bulwark of the hallowed tradition of French Classicism versus the Romanticism of Delacroix (1798–1863), and his classicism was later taken up by the early Degas (1834–1917) and admired as proto-modern by Picasso (1881–1973) and Matisse (1869–1954). Though he preferred fame as a history painter, this aspect of his work is less appreciated today and thought to be too academic. Only his nudes, odalisques and portraits have proved sympathetic to modern taste.

After training locally in Toulouse, his native region, Ingres entered the studio of David (1748–1825) in Paris in 1797. In 1801 he won the Prix de Rome but had to delay going to Italy because of a shortage of state funds. This mattered less since Napoleon had brought so many looted Italian pictures to Paris. In 1806 after painting an official portrait of Napoleon he left for the South. Paintings of his early Roman years shown mastery of the male and female nude notably in Oedipus and the Sphinx (musée du Louvre, Paris) and the Grande Baigneuse (musée du Louvre, Paris). Both are classical but softer and fleshier than the norm, which is maybe why they were ill-received by critics as insufficiently idealized. His Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus is more in the orthodox Davidian manner. After the fall of Napoleon, Ingres kept going with exquisitely drawn portraits of residents and visitors to Rome. He continued to send works to the Salon, including a sleek and serpentine Odalisque. Back in Paris in 1824, his monumental Apotheosis of Homer (musée du Louvre, Paris) immediately set him up as the standard-bearer of Classicism versus Romanticism. A decade later the poor reception of his Martyrdom of St Symphorien (Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d'Autun) induced him to return to Rome as director of the French Academy. In 1839, he painted another Odalisque with Slave (Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge) whose more anecdotal style was to be a key exemplar for the popular orientalist painter Gérôme (1824–1904). His most elaborate essay in this idiom was the Turkish Bath with its mass of intertwined figures. He also painted number of small pictures of historical subjects in the so-called Troubadour style with accurate detail and piquant narrative.

Ingres looked down on portraiture, but he is arguably the greatest portraitist between David and Degas. His portraits of Napoleonic officials in Italy quietly reveal a sense of mission to bring Italy into the modern world while his Monsieur Bertin (musée du Louvre, Paris) is more challengingly confrontational. His fashionable mid nineteenth-century society women took a long time to paint owing to the obsessive trouble Ingres took with their execution. He exhibits a fascination with surfaces and textures, from the floral exuberance of Madame Moitessier, to the luscious mauve and blue satin of the Comtesse d'Haussonville and the Princesse de Broglie. Emotionally none of them give much away. Only in the case of Madame Moitessier, whom he painted twice, is there a hint of repressed feeling lurking beneath the conventions of formal portraiture.


Top Auction Results for Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Portrait de la comtesse de la rue
Sold for €2,081,000 ($2,661,806)
Paris, Christie’s, 23 February 2009, Collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé, lot 78

Jupiter et Thétis
Sold for 14,430,000 FF ($2,426,637)
Monaco, Christie’s, 2 December 1989, Importants Tableaux Anciens et du XIXeme siècle, lot 68

Comtesse Charles d'Agoult, née Marie d'Agoult, and her daughter Claire d'Agoult
Sold for $1,930,500
New York, Christie’s, 31 January 2013, Old Master & Early British Drawings & Watercolors Including an Important Canadian Collection and a Distinguished Private Collection, lot 85

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