Portrait of Monsieur Bertin (1832) by J.A.D. Ingres
Interpretation of Neoclassical Portrait Painting

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Portrait of Monsieur Bertin (1832)

Portrait of Monsieur Bertin. By J.A.D. Ingres.
One of the greatest modern paintings of the 19th century.


Explanation of Other French Paintings


Name: Portrait of Monsieur Louis-Francois Bertin (1832)
Artist: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Portrait art
Movement/Style: Realism (classical)
Location: Louvre Museum, Paris

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

Analysis of Portrait of Monsieur Bertin by J.A.D. Ingres

Renowned for his eclectic style of Neoclassical painting, modelled on the idealized High Renaissance art of Raphael (1483-1520) and Titian (1485-1576), Ingres also borrowed heavily from Northern Renaissance art - notably from realist painters like Jan van Eyck (1390-1441) and Hans Holbein (1497-1543). Given his close affinity with these four artists, each of whom produced some of the greatest Renaissance portraits of their day, it is surely no surprise that Ingres excelled most of all at portraiture, although his classical training gave him an enviable versatility. In addition to portraits, for example, he produced a quantity of mythological painting, numerous religious paintings as well as several examples of orientalist painting of varying types. Nowadays, his best works are thought to include: The Valpincon Bather (1808); La Grande Odalisque (1814); Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808-27); Portrait of Monsieur Bertin (1832); The Turkish Bath (1862-3) - all now in the collection of the Louvre, Paris - Stratonice and Antiochus (1840, Musee Conde, Chantilly); Odalisque with Slave (1842, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore); and Portrait of Madame Moitessier (1856, National Gallery, London).

Until his mid-forties, when he achieved his first major breakthrough, Ingres' main source of income was portraiture. These portraits included a few official commissions, such as Bonaparte, First Consul (1804, Curtius Museum, Liege), as well as private commissions, such as: Mademoiselle Caroline Riviere (1806, Louvre); Madame Devaucay (1807, Musee Bonnat, Bayonne); Joseph-Antoine Moltedo (1810, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Portrait of Madame de Senonnes (1814, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nantes); Count Nikolai Gouriev (1821, Hermitage, St Petersburg); and Mademoiselle Jeanne Gonin (1821, Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati). He was, above all, a master of drawing, a skill that proved invaluable when he was stranded in Italy without money, following the collapse of the Napoleonic regime in 1814. He survived by making pencil drawings of tourists - a tactic he again resorted to, during his later stay in Florence (1820-24).

But while portraiture was a useful source of income it held no interest for Ingres, who yearned above all to be recognized for his history painting - still the most prestigious genre in the Hierarchy of Genres, at least within the Academy. He saw portraiture as a lowbrow and unwelcome distraction from the lofty and universally relevant pursuit of historical works. Unfortunately - despite having a meticulous, highly polished style of academic art - his actual figure painting was ideally suited to compositions with only one or two figures, which is why his female nudes and his 19th century portraits have stood the test of time better than his large-format history paintings.

Ironically, his greatest portrait paintings came after he achieved his big success at the 1824 salon with The Vow of Louis XIII (1824, Montauban Cathedral). This huge historical picture brought him instant recognition and led to his election as a member of the French Academy. It was the end of his financial difficulties. He received a string of commissions for large history paintings, and he was able to focus on these works, without the need to paint portraits for money. Even so he was still in demand as a portraitist and in 1832 he received an invitation to paint Louis-Francois Bertin.



Louis-Francois Bertin (1766-1841) was an eminent French journalist, publisher and owner (since 1799) of The Journal of Debates (Journal des debats), the weekly record of the debates of the French National Assembly. Featuring a regular supplement, with gossip, fashion news, literary criticism, epigrams and caricatures, as well as contributions from some of the top writers of the day, it became the most read newspaper of the Restoration and the July Monarchy, and exerted a significant influence on French culture and literature during the first half of the 19th century. Bertin himself was art collector and patron who cultivated friendly relations with numerous writers and painters. His son happened to be one of Ingres' pupils, and it is believed it was through him, or possibly Etienne-Jean Delecluze, the Journal's art critic, that the arrangement came about. At any rate, Ingres was greatly intrigued by this influential leader of public opinion, and accepted the commission.

Portrait of Monsieur Bertin was Ingres' first major portrait of a man, and involved a good deal of preparatory sketching before the right pose was decided upon. At least seven of these sketches survive, including a charcoal drawing - Study for the Portrait of Monsieur Bertin (1832) - in the Ingres Museum, Montauban, and two pencil sketches in the Louvre. Once started, the painting took about a month to complete, with Ingres making numerous visits to Bertin's estate, Le Chateau des Roches, in Essonne.

The portrait is a wonderful example of realist painting which perfectly captures the power and resolve - as well as the thinning grey-white hair and facial furrows - of the 66-year old subject. He is shown seated in three-quarter profile on a curved-back mahogany chair, against a shallow brownish-gold background. His thick torso is dominated by the black of his jacket and the dark brown of his satin waistcoat, while his stubby hands - which rest on his thighs - are exposed like large white crabs against the black of his trousers. This feature is particularly reminiscent of Hans Holbein's Portrait of William Warham (1527, Louvre, Paris). And like Holbein, Ingres pays close attention to detail, including Bertin's gold watch and spectacles in the right-hand pocket of his waistcoat; the narrow starched white collar at his neck; the arm of the chair that catches the light; (possibly taken from Portrait of Pope Leo X with Cardinals by Raphael); a tiny bit of red cushion.

However, it is Bertin's monumentality - his occupation of the picture space - which commands attention and defines the portrait. (Compare Courbet's genre painting A Burial at Ornans on this point.) His body appears poised but balanced, while his eyes engage the viewer with confidence. A similar use of space can be seen in Portrait of Ernest Renan in his House (1892, Renan Collection) by Leon Bonnat (1833-1922); Portrait of Alfred Chauchard (1896, Musee d'Orsay, Paris) by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902); and Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

Portrait of Monsieur Bertin was greatly admired by art critics and public when it was shown alongside Ingres' earlier Portrait of Madame Devaucay (1807, Musee Bonnat, Bayonne) at the Paris Salon of 1833, and went on to influence a number of modern artists, including Pablo Picasso and Felix Vallotton. Today it is considered to be one of the finest works of French painting from the early 19th century. Unfortunately, it did not please Bertin's immediate family, although it didn't prevent them from commissioning drawings from Ingres after the death of Louis-Francois: see, for instance, Portrait of Armand Bertin (1842, graphite on paper, Private Collection) and Portrait of Madame Armand Bertin (nee Cecile Dollfus) (1843, graphite on paper, Private Collection).

For more about the impact of Ingres' neoclassicism on 20th century painting, see: Classical Revival in modern art (1900-30).

Other later portraits by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, include: Countess D'Haussonville (1845, Frick Collection, New York); Baronne de Rothschild (1848, Rothschild Collection, Paris); and Princess De Broglie (1853, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Explanation of Other French Paintings

Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717) by Jean-Antoine Watteau.

The Oath of the Horatii (1785) by Jacques-Louis David.

Death of Marat (1793) by Jacques-Louis David.


• For the meaning of other realist portraits of the 19th century, see: Homepage.

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