A conservative Avant Garde

The works of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) constitutes an important forerunner of the late 19th- and early 20th-century artistic revolutions. The exhibition offers a precise chronological presentation of Ingres’ work and his relationship with portraiture. Ingres was a successful portraitist against his own volition. From the outset of his career he accepted commissions for portraits. His portraits of his early period reflect the voluptuousness of Italian models, the colouring of Flemish art and subtle Gothicising influences These portraits are also the best indication of the independent course that his art would take.
The end of his study grant in Rome in 1810 coincided with the establishment of Rome as the second capital of the French empire, allowing Ingres to prolong his stay in order to work for Napoleon and the senior government officials. The refined tastes of these clients offered Ingres a unique opportunity to experiment with new aesthetic approaches in his ongoing quest for classical Roman monumentality. Giving form to the classical tradition was one of the ongoing features of Ingres’ output. In this sense, his interest in Greco-Latin literature played a key role as it allowed him to combine the classicising intent of his aesthetic with the eternal nature of the great themes of antiquity.

Having returned to Paris, in 1826 Ingres devised a composition for the ceiling of one of the new galleries in the Musée du Louvre. Depicting his own version of The Coronation of Homer, it marks the fulfilment of his desire to root his aesthetic in literary idealism. His depiction of Homer, crowned in the presence of the great myths of classically derived western culture, offers the defining image of classicism

Ingres received commissions to paint anecdotal historical episodes. Going beyond this, however, in a personal exercise of introspection, he also depicted scenes from the lives of the artists whom he most admired, particularly Raphael. Based on literary accounts or on Vasari’s Lives. Aware that history painting would never satisfy the ambitions that he had conceded to it, after his return from Italy Ingres reconsidered his literary and erotic canvases, and in particular his portraits. The latter allowed him to make innovations in a fashionable genre, although he never ultimately accepted the idea of himself as a portraitist. Overall, his portraits consciously competed with the emerging art of photography and paved the road to modernism.