Jean Auguste Dominique

France • 1780−1867

Biography and information

Don’t you see that monsieur Ingres himself wants to sit here?!” - with that being said, the artist Ingres got the young man in the theater out of the place, who turned out to be the writer Anatole France. The artist wasn’t a complaisant person at all, he considered himself a genius from a young age, and for quite some time he wasn’t on the same wavelength about that point of view with anybody else, which, of course, caused conflicts.

The artist’s childhood and education

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was very lucky with his father, but his mother was not so lucky with her husband. Joseph Ingres was engaged in painting, engraving, and music. Moreover, in the opinion of the grateful son, who had already gained recognition by that time, if Ingres Sr. had got the opportunities that he had provided to his offspring, he would have become the greatest artist of all time. One of the most vivid memories of Dominique Ingres about his childhood was the red crayon, with which he learned to draw under the guidance of his father. All the other worries of their three children and their up-bringing fell on the shoulders of the mother, nee Anne Moulet.

The father made a decision to try all the available options and taught his son to draw, sing and play the violin all at the same time. It quickly became clear that a pencil and a brush “obeyed” the boy better than anything else. Although he retained his love for music during his whole life, and the expression “Ingres’ Violin” became a household word. With no offense to the artist, but they said it about the little weakness of a big man. Ingres was friends with many musicians and composers, Liszt characterized his play as “cute” – that hobby was clearly not his strong point.

From 11 to 16 years old, the young Ingres studied the basics of painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Toulouse. There, for the first time, his interest in antiquity manifested itself. Ingres enrolled at the Paris Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 17, where he entered the studio of the illustrious Jacques-Louis David, and immediately became one of the strongest students. He wasn’t quite sociable, but he was persistent. He was given the nickname “Hermit” during the course of the study. David noticed the hard work and considerable talent of the young man and nominated the student for the Grand Prize of Rome, the main award of which was a four-year paid internship in Rome. On the second attempt, in 1801, Ingres won the prize. Unfortunately, the treasury was overspent due to the Napoleonic wars, and the government could not afford such expenses. As compensation, the artist received a studio in his use, in which he continued working on copies of the greatest and won public recognition for his portraits. Five years later, he went to Italy.

Italian adventures and Ingres’ triumph

Italy could be called his second homeland and rightfully so. That country replaced the artist’s homeland for a while. Simply put, when he had the opportunity to live in Italy, he used it. Ingres regularly sent the so-called “packages” to the French Academy from Italy – his paintings, completed assignments of the Academy and works for the Salon. Oftentimes, all of that was met indifferently. Upon completion of the internship, Ingres was in no hurry to return to France, fortunately, he had no failures with orders in Italy. And he was recognized there earlier than in his native country.

In 1824, he returned to France and presented the painting “The Vow of Louis XIII” at the Salon. That was a triumph! He was called the new Raphael, and his work was “an antidote to upstart romantics.” Soon, he received a medal of the Order of the Legion of Honor, the title of academician and started teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts. Ingres’ career was rapidly going uphill: there he was, the president of the French Academy, and, shortly after that, he headed the branch of the Academy in Rome (the so-called Villa Medici).

There was a legend about how Ingres’ endurance and tranquility during the outbreak of the cholera epidemic saved his students in 1837. One of the students fell ill and died; the rest of them panicking, rushed to pack their things in order to escape, as if there were any ways to escape from such a misfortune at that time. Ingres locked all the doors and forbade anyone to leave the walls of the Medici villa. For several weeks straight, students and teachers did not leave the building and worked hard. They also arranged musical performances in the evenings, and sometimes Ingres read Plutarch out loud... So the epidemic bypassed the Academy.

In 1841, Ingres returned to Paris for good. They greeted him with honor: a banquet for 400 people, the king’s personal audience... They did not doubt his talent anymore, although some paintings were criticized and sometimes that was quite reasonable.

During his life, several epochs changed: the French Revolution, the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, Restoration, the Second Empire... Through all those milestones, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres passed without being involved in them. He said that he was completely indifferent to who was in power and what form of government was in the country; the most important thing to him was that he could do painting. However, he still adhered to rather conservative views.

The artist’s personal biography

The first bride of Ingres was Anna-Julie Forestier, the daughter of a judicial officer. There was a preserved drawing in which the artist depicted the family of his beloved. A bright, light, joyful sketch was all that remained from the engagement period. When Ingres had an internship in Italy, the girl’s parents insisted on terminating the engagement. They considered that that frantic painter was not the best choice for her, and Ingres himself, under the hot Italian sun, cooled off to his bride.

Everyone knew that Ingres was introduced to his future wife by the wife of a French official who served in Rome. Actually, the situation was more interesting: Ingres was in love with that woman, and she, wanting to console him, brought the artist together with her cousin, who looked very much like her. At first, the young people corresponded, then they met, and in 1813, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, an artist, married Madeleine Chapelle, a milliner. The marriage was successful, they were very happy. Their views on life, sensual temperament, and mutual understanding in everyday life coincided. Madeline got along well with Ingres’ difficult personality. Family life was overshadowed only by the death of the child – a year after the wedding; they had a baby who died immediately. Ingres had no more children.

In 1820, the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini invited Ingres and his wife to stay with him in Florence. The artist accepted the invitation, but after a few months he and his wife left the luxurious mansion with almost a scandal. And what was the cause of that? Either it was the envy of the artist, who was still not quite appreciated, to the sculptor caressed by the public, or it was just pure jealousy. Yes, yes, there was a version that Ingres was jealous of his wife because of Bartolini.

With Madeleine, they lived together until her death in 1849. “It’s over. She’s gone, my house is gone, and I’m broken. All I can do is cry of grief,” he was very upset by the death of his beloved wife. For almost three years, Ingres secluded himself in his home. Then his friends introduced him to the widow of the famous lawyer, Delphine Ramel. The 71-year-old artist married the 43-year-old Delphine. She became his good wife, supported him in everything, and took care of him and household chores every day, giving him the opportunity to deal exclusively with painting.

Ingres’ stern temper

Ingres was very capricious and irritable by nature, he was jealous of successes of other artists; he considered his point of view to be the only one. At the same time, he was a good teacher, although he was too authoritarian. His classes were very interesting, and the students loved them. However, the artist was furious when he heard his ideas from the lips of others, at least, without direct reference to him.

Oftentimes, external self-confidence covered up internal doubts and hesitation, and, perhaps, that fully applied to Ingres. He was extremely ambitious, always dreamed of recognition and perceived criticism very painfully: after many years, he could reproduce the abusive review addressed to him and retaliate his opponent in return. And there were enough such reviews. On the one hand, Ingres and his paintings were praised, awarded, revered, caressed, and on the other hand, they were reproached for inappropriate “Gothic”, pretentiousness and coldness. Those reproaches were not always unreasonable. “Natural sensibility and a limitless desire for glory haunt me all the time,” he admitted.

Ingres, Raphael and Delacroix

Subsequently, art historians agreed that painting portraits was one of the strongest points of Ingres’ talent. He himself considered portraits to be trash, a craft way of making money. Ingres took seriously only his works on antique and historical subjects. And he loved the naked female body, he was its indefatigable singer.

A talented student of David, Ingres quickly deviated from his principles. At the top of Ingres’ personal Olympus, there was only a place for the main idol, Raphael. He was generally convinced that Raphael was the best thing that happened in the world of painting, and after him the history of art turned “somewhere in the wrong place.” Ingres saw his purpose in returning to Raphael and then going away from him in the right direction, continuing and developing his traditions. Ingres immeasurably revered Raphael, but he could not stand Rubens, claiming that the art of the latter “is disgusting and hostile, like gloomy darkness to a ray of light.

Speaking of Ingres, Delacroix was usually recalled. The confrontation of those titans, the confrontation of classicism and romanticism created some tension in which French painting of those years developed. Ingres’ antique motifs and plots, appeal to the frescoes of the Renaissance, worship of Raphael, the finest drawing, adherence to the classicism resisted Delacroix’s passion, sophisticated possession of color and romantic doctrine. The rivalry was balanced, perhaps, due to both artists’ equally powerful talent.

Ingres was called the last bastion of the classical school, but he was clearly underestimated. It was because the Impressionists, whom that “bastion” was called upon to confront, admired Ingres. His influence was recognized by the Fauvists led by Matisse and by the Cubists led by Picasso. And, as you know, all those comrades did not particularly respect academicism. Thus, Ingres was much more than just the classical tradition.

Written by Alena Esaulova