French Neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (angruh) was born on August 29, 1780. He saw himself as a painter of historical and mythological scenes, but he is best remembered for the portraits that he considered an “inferior” form of art. He began his formal art studies at the age of 11 and he was also an excellent violinist. After a promising debut at his school in Toulouse, he moved to Paris where he studied with the greatest painter of the day, Jacques-Louis David and then at the École des Beaux-Arts where he won the Prix de Rome in 1801. This entitled him to study in Rome at the government’s expense. He loved Italy and did not feel appreciated in Paris, as year after year, the critics savaged his paintings at the annual Salon, so he lived abroad for much of his life.
After the fall of the French government in Rome due to Napoleon’s defeat, his official commissions dried up and he was reduced to sketching tourists who came to Italy, which wounded his pride but produced great art. This was also a time when his violin was a great consolation, as he would regularly jam with musicians such as Paganini. His works began to receive recognition, especially Odalisque (1814), above, and his portrait of Louis-François Bertin (1832), to the left, and he was appointed to the Légion d’honneur. He took the position as the head of the École de France, now administering the school where he had once studied. He died of pneumonia on January 17, 1867. Although he saw himself as a classicist, his skill with contour has been claimed as inspirational by cubists, surrealists, and abstract expressionists alike.
Today’s saying, un violon d’Ingres (uhn veeolahn dangruh) refers to a hobby at which one is so accomplished, it could be a second career, like Ingres’ skill on the violin. It is immortalized in Man Ray’s photograph Le Violon d’Ingres (1924), at left, in which the photographer borrowed the pose of one of Ingres’ figures from The Turkish Bath.
- The Betrothal of Raphael and the Niece of Cardinal Bibbiena (art.thewalters.org)