J.A.D Ingres
Biography of French Neoclassical Academic-Style Painter.

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The Valpincon Bather (1808)
Louvre, Paris. One of the great
Female Nudes in Art History by

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)


Early Works and Submissions to the Salon
Public Recognition
Later Life
Important Paintings

For analysis of works by 19th century painters like Ingres,
please see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808-27)
Louvre, Paris. By J.A.D.Ingres.

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For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.

For a list of the best examples
by the world's top artists, see:
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The French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres enjoyed one of the longest careers in French painting, which extended from 1800 to 1864. A pupil of Jacques-Louis David - the greatest of all Neoclassical artists - Ingres became the leading proponent of neoclassical painting following David's death in 1825. His particular blend of neoclassical art was influenced by the graceful High Renaissance painting of Raphael, the meticulous Northern Renaissance art of Jan van Eyck and Hans Holbein, as well as the classical Baroque painting of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665). Ingres' output included female nudes, a range of mythological painting, several religious paintings and portraits, all executed with the sort of high 'finish' required by the French Academy - the guardian of conservative aesthetics. Not surprisingly therefore, he is seen as one of the top exponents of "academic art" and one of the last Old Masters of his era. Ironically, while he yearned to be admired for his history painting - the most exalted genre in the official Hierarchy of the Genres - he is nowadays best appreciated for his portrait art and figure painting, both of which were outstanding. His most important works include: The Valpincon Bather (1808, Louvre, Paris); La Grande Odalisque (1814, Louvre); The Vow of Louis XIII (1824, Montauban Cathedral); Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808-27, Louvre); Stratonice and Antiochus (1840, Musee Conde, Chantilly); Odalisque with Slave (1842, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore); and Turkish Bath (1862-3, Louvre). His greatest portrait paintings include: Bonaparte, First Consul (1804, Curtius Museum, Liege); Portrait of Monsieur Bertin (1832, Louvre); and Portrait of Madame Moitessier (1856, National Gallery, London). For more about the impact of Ingres' art on twentieth century painting, please see: Classical Revival in modern art (1900-30).




Ingres' rise from provincial art student to the top ranks of French painters was slow and fitful, although he remained doggedly confident of his chosen path. Born in Montauban, north of Toulouse in southern France, his father was an artist of sorts: a painter of miniatures, sculptor, stonemason and musician. From an early age, the young Ingres was encouraged to draw and learn music. He attended a local school but his formal education came to a close when the school was shut during the French Revolution. In 1791 he enrolled in the Royal Academy in Toulouse, to study figure drawing and landscape. It was here, thanks to his instructor Guillaume-Joseph Roques (1757–1847) that he developed a strong admiration for the works of Raphael (1483-1520). In 1797, he was awarded first prize for drawing by the Academy, and then went to Paris to study with Jacques-Louis David, then the leading exponent of neoclassical painting. He remained in David's studio for four years. In 1799 he entered the French Academy of Fine Arts (Ecole des Beaux-Arts), and in 1801 won the coveted Grand Prix de Rome (postponed until 1806) for his submission entitled: The Ambassadors of Agamemnon in the tent of Achilles (1801, Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Art, Paris). He made his debut at the Salon with Portrait of a Woman in 1802. This piece is now lost. Shortly after he won a prestigious commission, along with five other artists to paint a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte. His own submission was Bonaparte, First Consul (1804, Curtius Museum, Liege), a work which borrowed noticeably from Jan van Eyck (1390-1441).

NOTE: For two other 19th-century French painters of a similar style to Ingres, see: Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835) and Ernest Meissonier (1815-91).



Early Works and Submissions to the Salon

Ingres early career was not particularly smooth. In 1808 his initial version of Oedipus and the Sphinx was criticised as being flat and shadowless, while his Valpincon Bather was deemed insufficiently idealized. Although stung by this criticism he continued to study and paint in Rome, every year sending paintings back to the Academy in Paris for judgment. In 1811 he completed his final student work, the huge Jupiter and Thetis (1811, Musee Granet, Aix-en-Provence) which made a similar negative impression on the academy. The only artists who appreciated his talents were (ironically) Eugene Delacroix, and the other Romantic artists working under Pierre-Narcisse Guerin (1774-1833).

In 1819 Ingres sent his painting La Grande Odalisque (1814, Louvre) to be exhibited at the Paris Salon. The subject, a concubine lying with her back to the viewer was influenced by the famous Venus of Urbino (1538, Uffizi, Florence), by Titian (c.1485-1576). The elongated proportions of the nude and the erotic nature of her skin are reminiscent of 16th century Mannerism, but French critics complained that her back had been distorted by the equivalent of two vertebrae and that the painting was eccentric and bizarre. In contrast, modern critics claim that the way Ingres succeeded in fusing realism with expressionism was one of his gifts, which - along with his subtle 19th century colour palette - made his paintings appear more alive and thrilling, rather than dead and academic.

Public Recognition

In 1820 Ingres moved to Florence, where he completed a history painting - The Entry of Charles V into Paris - for Monsieur de Pastoret a childhood friend from his home town of Montauban. Shortly afterwards, with the assistance of the same de Pastoret, he obtained a commission to paint The Vow of Louis XIII for the Cathedral of of Montauban. Seeing this as a major opportunity to fulfill his ambition of becoming one of France's best history painters, he spent four years on its completion, and accompanied it to Paris in the autumn of 1824.

Exhibited at the Salon of 1824, the painting finally gave him the public acclaim he craved. He found himself celebrated throughout France, and shortly afterwards, in January 1825, he was presented with the Legion of Honour by the king. Later in the same year he was elected a member of the French Academy, which gained him a series of official commissions. At the same time, his painting La Grande Odalisque - scorned by critics and artists alike only a few years previously - was suddenly widely popular, due to its reproduction as a lithograph. Also, around this time, a number of conservative academicians and art critics began to see his polished classicist style of painting as a natural counterbalance to the brash school of Romanticism, led by Ingres' former admirer, Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) - noted for masterpieces like The Death of Sardanapalus (1827) and Liberty Leading the People (1830). Moreover, with the recent death in Brussels of the great Jacques-Louis David, Ingres was now accepted as the new leader of the neoclassical tradition.

New releases, like his reworked Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808-27, Louvre), The Apotheosis of Homer (1827, Louvre) and Portrait of Louis-Francois Bertin (1832, Louvre) brought him further praise, but a cool reception for his painting of The Martyrdom of Saint Symphorian (Cathedral of Autun), which was shown at the Salon of 1834, caused him - in a fit of indignation - to go into self-imposed exile in Rome as director of the Ecole de France.

In 1840 he returned to Paris, where over the next two decades he completed several fine works which added further to his reputation. These included: Stratonice and Antiochus (1840, Musee Conde, Chantilly); Odalisque with Slave (1842, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore); Portrait of Madame Moitessier (1856, National Gallery, London) and The Turkish Bath (1862-3, Louvre). He also produced a smaller, reversed version of Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864), which is now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Later Life

Although he could paint quickly, Ingres often spent years working on a painting - sometimes returning to a canvas after a gap of several years. He became famous for his 19th century portraits, although he complained they robbed him of the time he could spend on historical subjects. He often dined with his subjects in order to catch them off guard, since he was most likely to glimpse something of their essence when they were most relaxed. His portraits of Monsieur Bertin (1832) and Comtesse d'Haussonville (1845) were praised as ideal reconstructions of individuals.

In the last 10 years of his life he produced some of his most important works including another great example of Orientalist painting, namely The Turkish Bath (1862-3) showing a crowd of nude women in a harem. Only a year later Manet (1832-83) exhibited his notorious Olympia which shocked society by placing nudes next to dressed gentlemen. The Turkish Bath was more acceptable because it was obviously set in an exotic fantasy world.

Active to the end, Ingres died of pneumonia in 1867 at the age of 86. The entire contents of his studio, including many major paintings and over 4,000 drawings are now housed in the Musee Ingres, Montauban.


One of the greatest neoclassical artists, Ingres' influence on later artists was considerable. This is most noticeable in the work of Edgar Degas (1834-1917), although Renoir (1841-1919), Matisse (1869-1954) and Picasso (1881-1973) have all acknowledged a debt to him. Note, for example, how Picasso's Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906, Metropolitan Museum, NY) borrows from Ingres' Portrait of Monsieur Bertin. Although Ingres was highly respectful of classical principles, modern critics say his paintings incorporate the body of a romantic spirit. His experiments with distortions of form and space helped pave the way for several movements of modern art.

Important Paintings

Pictures by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres can be seen in a number of the best art museums throughout the world, notably the Louvre in Paris. His greatest works include the following:


- The Valpincon Bather (1808) Louvre.
- Jupiter and Thetis (1811) Musee Granet, Aix-en-Provence.
- La Grande Odalisque (1814) Louvre.
- The Vow of Louis XIII (1824) Montauban Cathedral.
- The Apotheosis of Homer (1827) Louvre.
- Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808-27) Louvre.
- The Small Bather (1828) Louvre.
- Antiochus and Stratonice (1840).
- Odalisque and Slave (1842) Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.
- Joan of Arc: Coronation of Charles VII in Cathedral of Reims (1854), Louvre.
- The Turkish Bath (1862-3) Louvre.
- Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864) Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.


- Bonaparte, First Consul (1804) Curtius Museum, Liege.
- Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne (1806) Musee de l'Armee, Paris.
- Mademoiselle Caroline Riviere (1806) Louvre.
- Madame Devaucay (1807) Musee Bonnat, Bayonne.
- Joseph-Antoine Moltedo (1810) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
- Charles-Joseph-Laurent Cordier (1811) Louvre.
- Portrait of Madame de Senonnes (1814) Musee des beaux-arts, Nantes.
- Count Nikolai Gouriev (1821) Hermitage, St Petersburg.
- Mademoiselle Jeanne Gonin (1821) Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati.
- Portrait of Louis-Francois Bertin (1832) Louvre.
- Countess D'Haussonville (1845) Frick Collection, New York.
- Baronne de Rothschild (1848) Rothschild Collection, Paris.
- Princess De Broglie (1853) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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