Along with David, Boilly and Gérard, Ingres, who was born on this day in 1780, was one of my favourite artists when I was a French Revolution obsessed teenager and undergraduate. Luckily for me, there was a ample opportunity during my History of Art degree to study the works of the Neo-Classical artists but I’m afraid that my love for Ingres and David has waned somewhat over the subsequent years.
Nonetheless, I thought I’d share a couple of favourites with you today in honour of his birthday. Clearly, my love of really flouncy female portraits will NEVER diminish.
Baronne James de Rothschild (1848, collection privé) dressed in a gown that is reminiscent of Quality Street wrappers and marshmallow whip. There’s not many complexions that could carry off this ensemble but that won’t stop people trying. I think Madame la Baronne is one of the few who looks good in medicinal pink though.
Louise de Broglie, Comtesse d’Haussonville (1845, Frick Collection) looking thoughtful and a teensy bit flirtatious by a mantelpiece. Madame d’Haussonville was a talented writer, whose biographies of La Reine Margot and Byron suggest that she was irresistibly drawn to the Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know. As with Madame la Baronne, I find the posing of her hands interesting as Ingres wasn’t exactly great at painting them (RUBBER FINGERS) and yet he still insists on making them the focus point of his portraits. It’s almost as if someone once said to him: ‘You know what, Ingres, you can’t paint fingers for TOFFEE’ and he got into a defiant huff and went ‘Well, we shall see about that!’
Joséphine-Éleanore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brissac de Béarn, Princess Albert de Broglie (1853, Metropolitan Museum of Art). Ingres captured the rather awkward, shy demeanour of this rather pious young woman perfectly – it’s clear that she is no flirt, unlike her pretty sister in law, Louise.
Marie-Clotilde-Inès de Foucauld, Madame Paul-Sigisbert Moitessier (1856, National Gallery). Oh dear, again with the fingers. This is a glorious piece isn’t it? I love her beautiful flounced floral dress, the almost Mona Lisa like grave humour of her expression and, as always with Ingres, the sumptuous richness of her surroundings. It’s said that Ingres wasn’t actually all that keen on portrait painting but, like so many other artists over the centuries, saw it as a useful way to keep himself funded while working on his true love of history paintings. He was originally unwilling to take on Monsieur Moitessier’s commission to paint his beautiful wife but then relented after meeting the lady herself. However, it took him seven years to complete the painting with the result that the Moitessier’s daughter, Catherine, who was originally intended to be at her mother’s side, wasn’t included as she was all grown up by the time it was finished.
The dresses from this period are dreamy, aren’t they? Let’s have a look at a few from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York…
French evening dress, c1860.
Silk cotton evening gown, 1860.
Silk and gauze ball gown, c1854.
American silk wedding dress, c1855.
French cotton afternoon dress, c.1855.