Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was a French artist, leader of European academism of the 19th cent. In his views on classicism he didn’t share no conservative, not revolutionistic tendencies. Ingres was interested most of all in the issues of form and had to represent originality of a depicted object. Went down in history as a matchless portraitist.

Early years

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was born on August, 29, 1780 in Montauban. His father, miniaturist and sculptor, Joseph Ingres was his first teacher of arts. In the age of 11 he entered the the Académie Royale de Peinture, Sculpture et Architecture, where studied till 1797under the guidance of the neoclassical painter Guillaume-Joseph Roques.

After graduating from the academy, he became a pupil of Jacques-Louis David in Paris. Serious, obsessed in his work, Ingres was keeping aloof and participated in no diversions and gatherings of his student-mates. His drawings and sketches give evidence of the artist’s skilled hand and accurate eye. In 1799 he was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts, where in 1801 Dominique received he Grand Prix de Rome for his canvas “Ambassadors of Agamemnon in the tent of Achilles”.

This painting evoked nonrandom lavish praise from English sculptor and draughtsman John Flaxman, who named this painting the most significant event of then-contemporary French art. For sure, Flaxman had slightly exaggerated his appreciation, but he was one of the first specialists, who noticed in the Ingres’ piece that subtle and mannered elegance, typical for English neoclassicism of the beginning of the 19th cent., which was beyond academic traditions.

The painter gained right for training in Rome, but due to the luck of state finances remained in France. During this period he was earning for his leaving with portraiture. Among the brightest examples of his early works his self-portrait, three portrait of the Riviere family, his friend Jean-Pierre-Francois Gilibert and “Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne” should be marked out. They demonstrate prevailing of drawing overs coloring – everything is submitted to lucid and accurate line. Refined and soft combinations of tints only colorize acute and completed linear contour.

Exhibited in the Salon of 1806, Ingres works were noted. However, critics reproached him for imitating “the gothicism” of Jan van Eyck and upbraid for violation of academic rules that were thought to be unshakeable. Truly, Ingres rejected pomp common for official art and showed individual features, naturalness and simplcitity of models’ poses without any idealization.

Visit to Italy

Finally in 1806 Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres left for Italy. He stayed in Rome for 14 years (till 1820) and then moved to Florence, where spent four years. The artists was working hard and fruitfully in the Apennines, sending from time to time his paintings to the Paris Salon. As part of his studying, he made lots of copies from antique statues and pictures of old Italian masters. Ingres strived for renewal of classical art and paid a lot of attention to the heritage of the proceeding epochs, of Raphael particularly.

During the years in Italy, Dominique created a number of brilliant portraits – images of Madame Duvauçay, his closest friend Marcotte d’Argenteuil, Madame de Senonnes and charming portrait of Mademoiselle Jeanne-Suzanne-Catherine Gonin.

Ingres achieved an outstanding neatness of drawing in his canvases with nude figures, like in “Oedipus and the Sphinx”, “The Valpinçon Bather”, “Grande Odalisque”, “Ruggiero Rescuing Angelica”. Here his line became fluid and soft; smooth contour shaped up a silhouette, gently modeled with shadows. But sometimes master considered even this light modeling of volumes unnecessary. Many of the masterpieces of Italian period are simple drawings done in lead pencil, almost without shadows. Here the expressiveness of line reached its ultimate level. Portraits the Violinist Niccolo Paganini, Stamaty family, Jacques-Louis Leblanc and his wife, etc. Certain coldness of his manner didn’t hinder the artist from showing sharp characteristics of his model.

He revealed all his best creative traits just at the very beginning of his career, by 1824. And the works of that time – simple portraits or separate nudes would assemble the best part of his legacy, as they fully embody his calm, serene art that pleases the eye with clear musical rhythm.

Historical and religious painting VS portrait painting

Anyway, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres believed creating of large-scale historical and religious compositions was his main mission. This was the field where he tried to manifest all his aesthetical views and ideals and hoped to make him famous . But the painter got wrong, thinking they would bring him honor and immortality. Art historians perceive them as rather strained and coldish. Such huge canvases as “The Oath of Louis XIII”, exhibited in the Salon of 1824, was meant to meet the tastes of the most conservative part of the society that participated in the Restoration of Bourbon monarchy. Aristocracy didn’t loose the opportunity to attract such a prominent talent as Ingres.
After his return to Paris in 1824, the painter was given several commissions – big multifigural compositions. He spent years, rendering them, but the results were too officious as we could ascertain looking at “The Apotheosis of Homer” and “Martyre Saint-Symphorien”. This was a tragedy of the painter, who disvalued his gift of a portraitist and thought it to be a secondary activity comparing to historical genre.

Ingres was granted more and more honours: in 1825 he was elected a member of the French Institute and awarded with the Cross of the Légion d’honneur by Charles X, in 1829 was appointed a professor of the École des Beaux-Arts (and became its director in 1853). But if before 1824 representatives of the ossified academic art had carped at him about his style, now he was criticized by young romanticist-painters. He was especially oversensitive about negative appraisal of “Martyre Saint-Symphorien”. Dominique even decided to leave Paris and again spent some years in Italy, from 1835 to 1841, as a director of French Academy, based in the Villa Medici.

Master seemed not to mention how contradictive he was, making along with his impassive academic canvases such marvelous pieces, full of keen observations and true poetic exility. In “Portrait of Monsieur Bertin” he expose himself as a realist, managing to depict all vividness and authoritativeness of the personality just in one expressive gesture of hands. This gray-haired man turned into a symbol of a new epoch.

Return to Paris

When Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres came back to the French capital in spring of 1841, he was welcomed as a triumphant. Berlioz dedicated a specially arranged meeting to him, Louis-Philippe invited him to visit Versailles and have a dinner in his favorite royal residence in Neuilly. The troupe of the Comedie Franciese sent him an honorable ticket that gave Ingres right of free entry for the term of his life. Last years of the artist’s life were full of recognition and glory.

Shortly afterwards of his return, in 1843, the Duc de Luynes asked Dominique to create murals in the great hall of the Chateau de Dampierre. The subject was “Golden Age” and “Iron Age” – stages of human existence on the Earth, described by classical poets Hesiod and Ovid. But the frescoes remained unfinished for unknown reasons, but even its completed parts strikes the imagination with virtuosity of painting human body.

At the same time he was demanded as a great portraitist: the most influential women from noble circles of France, like Countess d’Haussonville, Baronne de Rothschild, Madame Moitessier, Madame Gonse and others, posed for him. His self-portrait of 1858 is a bit austere, straightforward and show us a vigorous character of the author, for whom making ordered portraits and wasting his skills for painting details of costly clothing was burdensome.

One the other hand, he, as no one else, knew how to turn an every-day object into a splendorous still life, how to represent materiality, texture, picturesqueness of various textiles. His personages combine individuality and typicalness, bearing signs of new historical time.

The end of 1850s was marked by presentation to the public of two his most famous canvases “The spring” and “Turkish bath”. Nevertheless, it’s important to mention that towards the end of his life Jean Auguste resorted to the help of his assistants more and more often, but kept on working till his last days. On January, 8, 1867 Ingres decided to see to a carriage some ladies after musicale at his home. Unfortunately, dressed not warm enough, he caught cold and died on January 14.


Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was one of the first artists to draw attention to the problem of peculiarity of artistic vision and means. That’s why, despite his neoclassicistic orientation, his painting had impact on oeuvre of such impressionists as Degas and Renoir and their followers – postimpressionists – Seurat, Cezanne.


“Is there anyone among the great men who has not imitated? Nothing is made with nothing.”
“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”
On the amazement of one critic about how Ingres managed to create such different paintings as “Jeanne d’Arc” and “Turkish bath”, the artists replied “I have several brushes!”. This answer entertained Degas a lot.