Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ingres, Jean Auguste Dominique

Raphael and the Fornarina
oil on canvas
64.77 x 53.34 cm (25 1/2 x 21 in.)
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

La Fornarina, which means “little baker girl”, is traditionally identified with the fornarina (bakeress) Margherita Luti, Raphael's Roman mistress.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 -1867) was a French Neoclassical painter. 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 Eugene Delacroix. His exemplars, 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 was born at Montauban as the son of a painter and sculptor. He was introduced to art at an early age. Though his father was a mediocre artist described as a 'jack-of-all-trades', he passed his love of art onto his more talented son. It wasn't long before Ingres elevated from his father's informal training onto better things.

Ingres was an artist who received mixed reviews throughout his career. The ups and downs of his career are a most fascinating aspect of his artistic journey. During his 87 years he had frequently seen the critical response to his work go from unabashed scorning to enthusiastic accolades. This fluctuation literally occurred overnight after one Salon exhibition, but it was without significant longevity. Though the opinion of his worth as an artist was inconsistent the majority of his life, he ultimately finished on top. In his latter years he was well respected, highly sought after and even deemed the best living artist in France. He became a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and later he was elected to the President. The French government elevated Ingres to the rank of Grand Officers of the Legion of Honor. He was the first artistic figure to receive such a title. He was also one of the first professional painters appointed to the Senate in 1862. In his 60s Ingres was recognized as the greatest living artist in France.

Ingres died rich, honored and revered as a god by many of his pupils. His death marked the symbolic end of the tradition of monumental history painting in France. Despite having been surrounded by scores of pupils and a group of devoted fans, Ingres eventually left behind no pupils who would sustain his increasingly antiquated artistic vision. He was considered the last Neoclassical artist. Ingres said paint should be as smooth 'as the skin of an onion'.