Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, “The Ambassadors of Agamemnon in the Tent of Achilles”, Detail and Full Canvas, 1801, Oil on Canvas, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts
The monumental history painter Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres was born in August of 1780 in the southern French town of Montauban. After receiving early instruction from his artist father, he was enrolled at the Academy of Toulouse, studying under neo-classical painter Guillaume-Joseph Roques. In 1797 Ingres left for Paris to study with Jacques-Louis David, who recognized his talent and allowed Ingres to assist on his “Portrait of Madame Récamier”.
Admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Ingres won the Rome Prize in 1801 with his first major work, “The Ambassadors of Agamemnon in the Tent of Achilles”. Living in Paris and studying medieval church sculptures and the works of early Italians and Flemings at the Louvre, Ingress drifted away from the classicism he studied under Roques and David. He developed a new style, intricately designed with nearly shadowless figures, formed of distinct areas of color. Ingress exhibited four works at the Salon of 1806; though three were ignored by the critics, his “Napoleon on the Imperial Throne”,with its hard Gothic-styled artificiality and symmetry, scandalized them.
Between 1806 and 1814, Ingress spent his time painting in Italy, surviving on a four year stipend from the French Academy of Rome, painting portraits, before receiving patronage from, among others, Caroline Murat, sister of Emperor Napoleon and Queen of Naples. His works during this time includes “Oedipus and the Sphinx” and the “Valpincon Bather”, both executed in 1808 and now in the Louvre. Ingres was also among the painters charged with decorations for the Quirinale Palace, the residence of Napoleon’s infant son, king of Rome, producing two large paintings: the romantic 1813 “The Dream of Ossian” and the 1812 tempera painting “Romulus Victorious over Acron”.
Ingres received his first major commission from the Restorative government for two major works: an altar piece for the church of Santa Trinita dei Monti in Rome and, for the cathedral of Montauban, a painting to depict King Louis XIII’s vow to consecrate his kingdom to the Virgin Mary in Her Assumption. “The Vow of Louis XIII” achieved critical success at the Paris Salon of 1824, establishing Ingres’s reputation as the main classical artist. He was awarded the Legion of Honor and elected to the Royal Academy, staying in France and opening a teaching studio in 1825.
After the Revolution of 1830, Ingres received honors but little work from the liberal monarchy of Louis-Philippe. He labored for ten years on a commission for the Autun Cathedral entitled “Martydom of Saint Symphorian”, only to find dismissal from the critics at the 1834 Salon as outmoded in subject matter and style. Ingress departed for Rome, staying for six years, returning only after the popular success of his 1840 “Antiochus and Stratonice”, painted for the Duke of Orlénas, the king’s eldest son.
In the 1840s and 1850s, despite spending much of his energy on large mural works, Ingress achieved his honors from his portraits of society women, including the portraits of “Baroness Rothschild” in 1948,;“Madame Moitessier” in 1851 and now in the National Gallery of Art; and “Princess de Broglie” in 1853. For the government of Napoleon III, he painted “Apotheosis of Napoleon I” and was honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Universal Exposition of 1855.
Ingress finished his painting “Turkish Bath” in 1862 at the age of eighty-two; in the same year, he was appointed to the French Senate. He died, after a brief illness, in January of 1867, of natural causes at the age of eighty-seven. His daring individual style, often criticized, was dedicated to an idea of beauty based on the relationship between forms, and harmonies in the use of line and color.