Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – classic, idealizing and also beautiful

27. June 2019

The French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was able to draw and paint, that is still certain. He was also one of the best-known artists of the 19th century. A painter at a time when art was evolving, progressing and taking different paths due to social upheavals, changing values and a progressive concept of art.

Art became more and more important, became more commercial, art dealers strengthened, there were collectors and patrons. On the one side stood the church and the state, on the other the bourgeoisie. Everyone wanted to determine what art meant and should mean, what value was attached to it and what was good and what was bad. Therefore, on the one hand, there was academism, which determined what was art in the taste of the times. The art academy still dominated the taste of art at that time and was therefore the most important instance of art at that time. On the other hand, however, there was the idea of progress, the revolutionary and artists who wanted to break into modernity. New painting techniques and new representations found their way into art, whether accepted or rejected. A struggle for the taste of art had begun and was to continue into the 20th century.

Ingres’ elegant and harmonious compositions were highly appreciated in France during his lifetime. He was considered an academy painter and taught at the École des Beaux-Arts. This also brought him criticism at a time that was looking for innovations in painting, a time for art that was on its way to modernity. A historiography of art began that called a Courbet realism more progressive than an Ingres academism. Modernism wanted to form a counterposition to the old image of art. Artists such as Theodore Gericault, Eugene Delacroix or later Gustave Courbet are regarded today as revolutionary artists full of ideas. Ingres was not, he was considered classical, traditional, conventional.

Napoleon on his throne

The academic style was Ingres arrested. Classicist and based on antiquity, he nevertheless found his own, albeit conventional, handwriting. This did not correspond to a modern, original and avant-garde view. But that did not make his works any worse. No, they were beautiful, idealizing beautiful. Ingres mastered his technique, designed, was well known and could show his own realism, his own view of beauty, which was reserved for other artists of his time.

Louis-François Bertin

Ingres’ biggest competitor was Eugene Delacroix, who was considered more revolutionary due to his virtuoso use of color and his compositional experiments. Delacroix’s most famous work is “Freedom Leads the People” from 1830, which became a symbol for the thought of the revolution. His motifs were critical and he did not hesitate to shock with his works. In contrast to Ingres Delacroix, colour was the most important thing in his work, the works speak through their colourfulness. Ingres, on the other hand, worked according to the norms and values set by the academy. Drawing and technical skill were his most important criteria, and he hardly attached any importance to color.

Ingres was famous for his fine nudes. He was also commissioned by important personalities to make portraits, including portraits by and for Napoleon. Ingre’s handwriting is fine, the contours delicate and clear and the colours realistic and harmonious. The background is usually only hinted at and cannot be named concretely, in contrast to the expressive and romantic works of some of his contemporaries. He experimented little. At the age of eleven, Ingres began his studies at the Toulouse Academy. Later in 1797 he began as a pupil of Jacques Louis David, but broke away from his style when he met painters from antiquity, Titian or Raphael during his journeys to Italy. In this way he developed his own classicist style.

The Bather of Valpincon

In his files Ingres mainly dealt with bathing scenes, one example is “The Little Bather” from 1828. One of his most famous paintings is “The Turkish Bath” from 1863. It was commissioned by Napoleon, who gave it back. Ingres then reworked the work, it became a tondo, and he also changed some minor details. In the foreground a woman can be seen in back view, which he already depicted in the picture “The Bather”. Her skin tone is unusual, darker than that of the women in the background, which makes her stand out.

The Turkish Bath

Historical paintings were considered to be one of the most important genres of art in the time of Ingres. Ingres also mastered this subject. One example is his painting “Jeanne d’Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII in the Cathedral of Reims” from 1854, where he linked religious history with politics. Jeanne d’Arc plays the role of mediator between heaven and earth in Ingres’ work, posing in a heroic yet devout gesture at the coronation of King Charles VII. As model for Jeanne d’Arc, the painter chose his wife Delphine and gave the work something so personal, perhaps even intimate, which can only be seen through knowledge. He himself can also be found in the work, Ingres is a knight on the left side of the picture.

The Sisters Montagu

Ingre’s drawings initially received little attention. The earliest drawings still show the style of his teacher David, but later the influence of Raphael’s work, which he studied during his trip to Italy, can be seen. In his late drawings Ingres increasingly included antique models such as vases. In his drawings he attached more importance to studies and lines than to coloured background painting, similar to his oil paintings, which made them appear cooler and more static. Nevertheless, his eye for forms and lines showed itself here.

François Pouqueville

The work of Ingres shows that he could paint, yes. His paintings convince with clarity, soft colours and drawing skills. Simply characterized as sensually beautiful. Despite all criticism, they really are. He combined the zeitgeist with his own style and therefore must not be devalued, but appreciated. Even if he wasn’t a rebel.