This project is an investigation of Jean Dominique Ingres’s portrait of Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn (1825–1860), Princesse de Broglie and my sense that as a contemporary artist, it was not “OK” love this painting. Why did I feel that way? Where did my sense of prohibition come from? I thought it would be interesting to explore.
I had recently read Dave Hickey’s, “Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy”. His assertion that, “bad taste is real taste … and good taste is the residue of someone else’s privilege” encouraged me to take my appreciation for the sometimes maligned Ingres, seriously.
The influential critic and poet Charles Baudelaire was an early proponent of modernism, and loathed Ingres. When confronted with Ingres’s work, the photographer Nadar wrote, “Before such antiquated and not majestic painting, my nostrils were invaded by whiffs of warm, sour and nauseating air … it was like the taste of a sick man’s handkerchief.”
The narrative of art history seemed to bend away from Ingres’s relevance, yet everywhere I looked I could see its echo.
In the forms, content and psychology of contemporary art, I see endless relationships to Ingres’s portrait. What follows is an investigation in progress, of the various connections throughout contemporary art to this painting. For me it challenges the idea of a linear narrative of art history, either as a rocket, as proposed by Alfred Barr, or as a tree as proposed by Ad Reinhardt.
Ingres was a master of form. To strip Ingres’s portrait of everything but the grid is to see Agnes Martin. To strip Ingres’ portrait of everything but the circles is to see Yayoi Kusama.
An investigation into the source of the princess’s marabou headdress lead to a Walton Ford style painting of the marabou stork and colonial Calcutta.
The chemise running across the undulating cleavage of the princess reminded me of Christo’s Running Fence.
The princess’s continuous pregnancies and four sons reminded me of the works of Louise Bourgeois and resulted in a sewn sculpture of the nude princess with her children.
The princess’s pallor and eventual death by consumption reminded me of Edvard Munch’s expressive paintings of consumptives.
In total there are 23 of these insights, all relating to the portrait by Ingres. Some of them are below.
My drawing of The Princess is the same size as the original painting, approximately 3′ x 4′. Ingres used a grid in the painting. Major compositional elements align to the natural grid.
The Fanatic of Form
Thoré describes Ingres as the fanatic of form. –From “La Folie Baudelaire” by Roberto Calasso.
Confronting the Psychological
“Behind the technical mastery with which he creates glittering facades and seemingly perfect bodies, his art conceals another deeper and equally fascinating dimension. Today’s modern society attaches greater importance to the psychological processes of the individual than was the case in Ingres’s day. … By confronting the riddles, the questions of life, and seeking a path that was ‘right’ for him, Ingres anticipated the conflict faced by modern man. But this was before Sigmund Freud had drawn attention to the internal conflicts of the human psyche, and Ingres’s paintings frequently met with rejection.”
–Karin H. Grimme
The Importance of the Feminine
“One day Amaury-Duval asked Ingres if he had finished the lead pencil portrait of a lady friend of his. Ingres replied, ‘Ah, my friend, don’t talk to me about that…it’s awful. I no longer know how to draw…I can’t do anything anymore…A portrait of a woman! Nothing in the world is more difficult, it’s not possible…I shall try again tomorrow, because I’ll start from scratch…One feels like weeping.’ Amaury-Duvall added that in that moment tears really did come to Ingres’s eyes.
If a secret doctrine of Ingres existed, this ought to have included as its first article, that a portrait of a woman is the hardest task in the world. Hence the dogged tenacity and the supreme mastery of Ingres in portraying women throughout his lifetime.
We can consider Ingres’s last words to be his remark at the door of his house in quad Voltaire, whence he had accompanied some lady guests after a musical soirée to help them put on their fur coats, as a bitter January wind swept over the group and everyone insisted that their host go back inside as soon as possible: ‘Ingres will live and die a servant of ladies,’ he said. A few days later, he was dead.”
–“La Folie Baudelaire”, by Roberto Calasso