Cover image for Ingres and the Studio: Women, Painting, History By Sarah Betzer

Ingres and the Studio

Women, Painting, History

Sarah Betzer

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$93.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-04875-8

328 pages
9" × 10"
51 color/82 b&w illustrations
2012

Ingres and the Studio

Women, Painting, History

Sarah Betzer

Ingres and the Studio is an exciting piece of scholarship that sheds new light on issues of paramount importance to our understanding of nineteenth-century French art: the increasingly interrelated destinies of portraiture and history painting; the importance of female agency within a complex cosmopolitan art world; and the centrality of imagery of women within both a specifically ingriste artistic enterprise and the modern creative imagination more generally.”

 

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  • Table of Contents
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  • Subjects
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres has long been recognized as one of the great painters of the modern era and among the greatest portraitists of all time. Over a century and a half of scholarly writing on the artist has grappled with Ingres’s singular identity, his relationship to past and future masters, and the idiosyncrasies of his art. Ingres and the Studio: Women, Painting, History makes a unique contribution to this literature by focusing on the importance of Ingres’s training of students and the crucial role played by portraits—and their subjects—for Ingres’s studio and its developing aesthetic project. Rather than understanding the portrait as merely a screen onto which the artist’s desires were projected, the book insists on the importance of accounting for the active role of portrait sitters themselves. Through careful analysis of familiar and long-overlooked works, Ingres and the Studio traces a series of encounters between painters and portrait subjects in which women sitters—such as the artist Julie Mottez, art critic, salonnière, and historian Marie d’Agoult, and tragic actress Rachel—emerge as vital interlocutors in a shared aesthetic project.
Ingres and the Studio is an exciting piece of scholarship that sheds new light on issues of paramount importance to our understanding of nineteenth-century French art: the increasingly interrelated destinies of portraiture and history painting; the importance of female agency within a complex cosmopolitan art world; and the centrality of imagery of women within both a specifically ingriste artistic enterprise and the modern creative imagination more generally.”
Ingres and the Studio offers a powerful new account of Ingres’s principally female portrait subjects, situated in the context of contemporary aesthetic and artistic debates—and no less situated within the context of Ingres’s studio practice and its psychological dynamics.”
“Betzer effectively points out the unique origins for Ingres’s approach to female portraiture and his distinct influence on a handful of painters marked by his inspiration and technique. . . .

Betzer’s book is thoughtful, challenging, and impeccably well-documented. The quality of the reproductions is superb and the illustrations are well-placed in the text.””
“Betzer’s book presents a welcome opportunity to expand one’s knowledge of some of the lesser known painters in Ingres’s circle and their involvement in painting some of the most influential women of their culture.”
“Through detailed (at times even meticulous) analyses, Betzer opens up prospects for engaging with [some paintings that] are as of yet well beyond the canon of nineteenth-century art. One of the great merits of this book is to make these paintings both interesting and accessible to specialists and non-specialists through Betzer’s passionate discussions and through high-quality reproductions.”
“Betzer frames Ingres as an innovator whose contributions surpassed struggles waged on academic terrain. By probing the distinction between academic and ingriste, established via the portrait-as-history and negotiated through the bodies of Ingres’s female sitters, Betzer rejects old criticisms to establish ingriste practice as a crucial bridge to modernity, an idea forwarded by her conclusion’s examination of Edgar Degas’s The Bellelli Family (1858-67) as a history portrait. In this handsomely illustrated and persuasively written text, however, Betzer’s true contribution lies in her excavation of Ingres’s frequently dismissed students, many of whom have received relatively minimal critical consideration in the art historical literature.”

Sarah Betzer is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Virginia.

Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1 The Ingriste Portrait as History

2 Ingres’s Studio and the Subjects of Art

3 Julie Mottez, Rome, and Ingriste Myths of Origin

4 Marie d’Agoult, the Aesthetics of Androgyny, and the Apotheosis of Ingrisme

5 Ingres’s Studio Between History and Allegory: Rachel, Antiquity, and Tragédie

Conclusion

Notes

Selected Bibliography

Index

Introduction

In 1878, Amaury-Duval (Eugène Emmanuel Amaury Pineu-Duval), a student of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and biographer of Ingres’s studio, recalled in his voluminous book, L’atelier d’Ingres, that his first visit to Ingres’s private studio in 1825 was indelibly inscribed in his memory. As the students surveyed canvases of varied subjects spanning twenty-five years of the master’s career, one particular fault line came into focus: the decisive break between Ingres’s Ambassadors of Agamemnon at the Tent of Achilles of 1801 (fig. 1) and the relatively diminutive study of a female nude, the Half-Length Bather of 1807 (fig. 2).1 The first was a multifigure composition in which five male protagonists were elegantly composed across the foreground of a space most evocative of an airless stage set, carefully lit by a crisp, cool light. The debt owed by these figures to ancient sculptural precedent was palpable. If we were to draw upon the metaphor of Pygmalion, here the artist had yet to see animating life breathed into his ideal forms. In the second canvas, painted only six years later, the erotic sinuosity previously reserved for the articulation of beautiful male form was now put in the service of the female body. This shift of attention is clear; indeed, we might go so far as to say that there is as much visual drama in the languorous curve of the Bather’s spine alone as there is in the whole of the frozen narrative that frames the earlier picture. And whereas human form was previously haunted by intimations of marble, the smooth skin of the half-length bather is conjured as warm—perhaps even a bit humid—by the artist’s brush.

When Amaury-Duval and his studio confrères observed the striking dissimilarity between these two paintings, Ingres was prompted to define the nature of the difference in uncharacteristically candid terms. “It is because I had not yet seen Italy when I painted this work,” he declared, referring to the Ambassadors, “and [the Bather] is the first that I painted under the influence of the masters.” Ingres continued, “They tricked me, sirs, and I had to begin my education over again.” That “they” referred to Ingres’s academic training in the studio of his master, Jacques-Louis David, was confirmed by Ingres’s next words: “Not that I don’t pay homage to my illustrious professor. No one has more respect than I for M. David, but it is clear that his taste took him in another direction. I followed the road of the masters . . . that of Raphael.”2

The constellation of terms invoked in this particular anecdote points to the heart of Ingres’s artistic identity and his vexed relation to emulative practices—that is, how notions of originality and subjectivity are worked out morphologically in the context of artistic traditions—engendered in David’s studio. In Amaury-Duval’s telling, Ingres’s revelatory declaration, in which the female bather is presented as the inaugural work of Ingres’s second (and veritable) education, is staged within a particular setting: the master’s studio. There, time collapses and expands, accordion-like, such that the space is permeated by the present encounter of the students and Ingres, and simultaneously populated by the phantom sites of artistic training and specters of past masters: Paris and Rome, David and Raphael. In Amaury-Duval’s account, Ingres unambiguously connected his mature artistic practice not only with Italy and Raphael but also with the Bather. In other words, Ingres’s new education was marked not just by a change of masters and artistic models but also by the emergent centrality of the female subject in the artist’s work.3

In this book, I take up a long-overlooked group of artists who were among Ingres’s most illustrious students in order to explore what has thus far remained largely uncharted territory in Anglo-American studies of nineteenth-century art. If, during his own lifetime, Ingres’s identity as master of a vibrant studio community was at the heart of the artist’s image—as cultivated by detractors and supporters alike—how is it that this aspect of Ingres’s career has in large part remained unwritten? In the face of more than a century of scholarship devoted to the artist in isolation, I intend for this study to substantially enrich our understanding not only of Ingres’s artistic identity and work but, as important, that of his students Amaury-Duval (1808–1885), Henri Lehmann (1814–1882), Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856), Hippolyte Flandrin (1809–1864), and Victor Mottez (1809–1897). The project’s genesis stems from what appeared a simple exercise in formal analysis: what unwritten history would explain my observation that these artists painted so many portraits of women and, more provocatively, that these works would so often bear the traces of a distinctive studio form? Portraiture, it seemed to me, must have had a history in the ingriste studio. And thus I arrived at a conclusion similar to the one reached by Henri Focillon many decades ago, one more recently given voice by George Vigne.4 If we might be hard pressed to attribute an utterly consistent studio style that would unite the wide range of artists trained by Ingres, nevertheless, in their portraiture, as in their religious painting, we see the powerful traces of group identification.

In what follows, I aim to excavate the story of how these identificatory practices unfolded for these artists in the realm of female portraiture. This body of portraiture encompasses histories of social exchange, artistic practice, and aesthetic concepts as well as categories that art-historical scholarship has understood as essential for understanding art making and artistic identity in the nineteenth century: artistic investment in classical Greek and Roman antiquity and with artistic forefathers more broadly, the changing forms of the pictorial genres, and the gendering of academic identity and studio community. By analyzing the artistic training and the making and circulation of art that took place in and around Ingres’s studios in Paris and Rome between 1825 and 1841 and in the period after Ingres’s triumphant return to Paris in 1841, I explore how Ingres and his most illustrious students directed their emulative engagement with past and present masters, and their academic training as history painters, toward the creation of portraits of women.

Ingres, the Female Subject, and Emulative Fault Lines

Amaury-Duval’s studio tale is a useful point of entry to this study insofar as it illuminates the way in which Ingres’s atelier continued to bear the marks of his experiences as a student of David. This account is vital, too, since the fault line to which Amaury-Duval pointed in 1825 stands as a critical point of departure for this book. By late 1825, Ingres had assumed the mantle of master, with its attendant prestige in the French academic system, signaled by his election to the Institut de France and the opening of his Paris studio. Ambassadors of Agamemnon at the Tent of Achilles occupied a particularly significant place in the artist’s career trajectory, as this painting, which won first place in the 1801 Prix de Rome competition, effectively set the wheels of academic recognition in motion. The final stage in the all-important series of academic competitions under the aegis of the École des Beaux-Arts, the Prix de Rome sent Ingres to Italy for a multiyear stay at the Villa Medici in the autumn of 1806.5 The success of Ambassadors of Agamemnon no doubt rested in part on Ingres’s demonstrated proficiency in the depiction of ideal male bodies—the practical and conceptual staple of academic and particularly Davidian painting and pedagogy. The male body—that absolute centerpiece of academic training and practice in the period—took on remarkable signifying power in the studio of David. As has been amply demonstrated in recent decades, representations of the male nude by David and his students reveal the overdetermined status of the male body, rife with Oedipal studio tensions and emulative challenges.6

Ingres entered David’s studio in 1797 after the departure of the first wave of David’s students, including Jean-Germain Drouais, François-Xavier Fabre, and Anne-Louis Girodet, and thus after the period of the studio’s most highly charged citation practices, in which subjects and forms were transmitted and transformed between master and student (and vice versa) and between students, within the atelier community. Nevertheless, Ingres found himself quickly assimilated into a studio machine wherein artists in training actively aided in the execution of large-scale works in progress. One such work was David’s monumental Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799; Musée du Louvre, Paris), a painting that has been understood as “generating David’s students projective identifications with the male nudes that they helped to execute on their master’s canvas.”7 Ingres’s early work, along with accounts of his experience in David’s studio, suggests that the artist was ready to toe the line in order to achieve academic glory. Indeed, Ingres’s 1801 Ambassadors of Agamemnon constituted a veritable roll call of the masculine types that were established as aesthetic categories in antiquity and had been made newly familiar thanks to the work of the German scholar and antiquarian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Here Ingres carefully depicted no fewer than three distinctive types, arranged across the shallow picture plane from left to right: from the sinuous ephebic bodes of Achilles and Patroclus to the brawny and muscular bodies of the mature Ajax and Odysseus, who frame the aged but still idealized Phoenix.8

In his career-launching canvas, Ingres thus spectacularly participated in an aesthetic program that showcased the male body as at once the essential artistic building block for ambitious painting and the site of ideal beauty in theoretical terms. This was precisely the kind of painting Ingres had been trained to produce in David’s studio, for despite the considerable diversity of David’s oeuvre, his work during the period of Ingres’s training held fast to a model in which representation was oriented overwhelmingly to the themes of civic heroism and martyrdom, and those canvases were consistently invested in the deployment of ideal bodies—above all, ideal male bodies—to do their storytelling.9 Even Ingres’s composition, which laterally differentiates private feminized pleasures and masculine public pursuits, cites what had become a hallmark of Davidian history painting.10

Although Ingres seemed destined to be the torchbearer of this Davidian model in 1801, it soon became clear that his role would actually be more complex. After taking up residency at the Académie de France in Rome, he dramatically expanded on the investigation of the male body encouraged in the studio of David. On the heels of his Half-Length Bather of 1807, in 1808 Ingres sent two canvases to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, one of which was his Oedipus and the Sphinx (fig. 3). An envoi, or demonstration piece, the canvas fulfilled a requirement that the artist send evidence of his progress and achievement while being supported by the French government at the Villa Medici.

Its subject taken from the familiar tale from Greek mythology, the painting depicted the hero Oedipus in a fateful exchange with the terrible Sphinx, half woman and half winged lion. Indebted to Ingres’s burgeoning interest in contemporary archaeological knowledge, and particularly his admiration of Greek vases and relief sculpture, Oedipus and the Sphinx is a celebration of contour in which the hero’s form is scrupulously delimited as if by scalpel and penlight against the hazy grotto of the background. But if the painting turns on the formal echoes between rock outcropping, marmoreal flesh, and the disconcertingly chiseled contours of the Sphinx’s gravity-defying breasts, these equivalencies are electrified by the contest between the hero and the horrible feminine embodied by the Sphinx. The painting depicts the instant of intellectual challenge (the painting was first entitled Oedipus Solving the Riddle of the Sphinx), after the Sphinx’s riddle has been posed and when Oedipus is locked in a riveting encounter with the grotesque beast. What Ingres knew, and what contemporary viewers would likewise have recognized, was that prevailing against the Sphinx would set into motion the terrible final act of the Delphic oracle’s predictions; having already unwittingly killed his father, Oedipus’s triumph would result in his ascension to the throne of Thebes, where he would take his father’s place not only as leader but also as husband to his own mother, Jocasta. Ingres’s Oedipus was, in short, famously doomed.

A crystallization of Ingres’s academic training, the painting’s subject at once definitively anchored Ingres’s practice in relation to Greek antiquity and provided a narrative vehicle for the representation of a monumental, idealized male figure. Indeed, the unapologetic centrality of Oedipus’s gesturing body has led contemporary art historians to judge the picture as little more than an academic figure study (in keeping with the dictates of the requirements of the Académie des Beaux-Arts) with only the most minimal compositional and narrative amplification.11 Despite the additions of skeletal remains in the foreground and the dramatically posed figure in the background, made in anticipation of the painting’s eventual exhibition at the Salon of 1827, Ingres’s Oedipus and the Sphinx stands above all as a demonstration of the training he had received in the studio of David, in which the male body literally stood at the center.

Ingres’s second submission took quite different form. In 1808, in addition to his Oedipus, Ingres sent back to Paris not the anticipated half-length male nude study but a female nude study now known as the Bather of Valpinçon (fig. 4).12 And while the Académie des Beaux-Arts decided that Ingres had fulfilled the requirement of an envoi, in its view the work could have been “more imbued with the beautiful character of antiquity and with the grand and noble style.”13 Ingres’s citations of the celebrated female nudes of Raphael have long been acknowledged, but at the time of its submission the Bather of Valpinçon was not recognized as an index of the artist’s connection with esteemed past masters. Described by the apparently perplexed Academy as a “woman coiffed in a kind of turban,” the work consolidated a disconcertingly idiosyncratic “subversion of the life study” even as it disrupted the well-established convention of male figure studies.14 The turban signals another aspect of the Bather’s nonconformity, as academic dictates stressed the desire for the unaccessorized model, linking the purity of the nude body to its inherently moral charge and thus its foundational role in artistic training oriented toward history painting.15 The explicit reference to the figure’s turban may have underscored the Academy’s unease with the work; it may also be seen to introduce the more pressing question of how Ingres’s female nude could be absorbed into an academic ideology of the nude. In lieu of the noble male nude figure, with the Bather of Valpinçon Ingres instead offered a canvas inscribed with the discomforting signs of (apparently) female alterity.16

The Bather of Valpinçon therefore cannot be seen as a foil to the beau idéal hero of Oedipus; instead, it is a profoundly disruptive object in the sense that all of the uneasy signs of sexual difference are elided within the work. On the one hand, Oedipus presented an academically posed male body as a fleshy envelope for an eminently legible message about heroism rooted in antiquity: an episode of the story that Teresa de Lauretis has argued stands as a primary instance in which masculinity and narrativity are united in the Western tradition.17 On the other hand, with the Bather the artist turned away from masculinity and narrativity tout court.18 In the place of male bodies that bespoke civic identities by way of form and pose, the Bather equivocated even on the level of sex. With the critical bodily zones of sexual difference obscured, the Bather emerged at once as (problematically) feminine, if not female, and fundamentally inaccessible on the level of narrative closure. Writing about the years following Ingres’s departure from David’s studio, Stephen Bann has described how the “mechanism of emulation was being extricated, slowly but surely, from the Davidian impasse.”19 Ingres’s envois speak to precisely this drama, I want to argue, and suggest how he would move forward in years to come. Indeed, from the episode of the 1808 Bather forward, Ingres’s perceived idiosyncrasy or subjectivity was regarded as an increasingly troublesome aspect of the artist’s work—one that gave the lie to the artist’s purported allegiance to “nature” and provided unsettling evidence of his departure from academic principles.20

As Ingres suggested to his students when faced with the juxtaposition of Ambassadors of Agamemnon and the 1807 Bather, one of the fruits of this Italian period was an expanding body of paintings that took up female subjects. Like David before him, Ingres described his arrival in Italy as a shock to his artistic system. But unlike David, Ingres manifested the traces of his freedom to pursue new emulative practices in relation to female form and in female subjects. At the same time that he undertook his Half-Length Bather in Rome in 1807, Ingres also executed a work that would continue to stand as a touchstone of his artistic achievement for a half-century to come: his Madame Antonia Duvaucey de Nittis, a portrait of the mistress of the French ambassador (fig. 5). Exhibited in Paris in 1833 and again in 1855, this work was recognized as a talisman of Ingres’s Roman education, a painting that attested to his emergent “sanctity of line” and “religion of form.”21 It also announced what would be a distinctive feature of the portraits of women produced by Ingres and his circle: a figure sublimely suspended between the fashionable modern subject and the (monstrous) phantasmatic antique. The critic Théophile Gautier registered this tension in his declaration, “This is no woman that M. Ingres has painted, but the likeness of the ancient Chimera, in Empire dress.” Mme Duvaucey’s eyes “enter your soul like two jets of flame,” while her hands, distracted by the “tortoiseshell leaves of a small fan,” fatally signify the sitter’s “utter indifference.”22 Conceived by Gautier at once as an index of Ingres’s personal aesthetic program and, through its perceived ties to a remote past, as a perplexingly inaccessible, even threatening vision of the female sitter, the Duvaucey canvas established the framing terms for female portraiture in Ingres’s circle.

Rather than positing this emergent focus—signaled by the portrait of Duvaucey and the Bathers of 1807 and 1808—as a point of definitive rupture with David, I want to underscore its important role in an ongoing exchange between master and student. The familiar tale of personal animosity and aesthetic disconnect between David and his pupil has too long overshadowed an important record of continued contact, a record made particularly evident through a sustained dialogue of form between the artists. That David made copies of both of Ingres’s envois of 1808 is one sign of what would remain a productive exchange for many years between the master and the student whom he described as “dangerous and seductive.”23 Two of Ingres’s paintings of 1814, the Grande Odalisque (fig. 6) and the portrait Madame de Senonnes (fig. 9), reflect a powerful emulative nexus demonstrating how Ingres persisted in working through the Davidian model. These works, which depict female subjects in a newly monumental guise, show that Ingres’s engagement with David was productively channeled in his ever more elaborate dedication to female form. But whereas the female nude has been exhaustively analyzed, female portraits and their connections to Ingres’s broader body of work, pedagogy, and aesthetic precepts have remained curiously obscured in existing scholarship. In this book, I hope to begin to rectify this historiographic bias.

Ingres, the Ingriste Studio, and Portraiture

Focused on questions of artistic origins in the guise of past and present masters and concerned with how artistic identity is shaped by charged studio relations, my discussion in this book is fundamentally oriented to the studio as an actual and conceptual frame within which the artists and select sitters of Ingres’s circle worked to establish a distinctive aesthetic program through artistic prototypes and models of ideality.24 Portraits emerged within this expanded sphere of the studio as objects of particular signification, as vehicles of interpersonal exchange, and as sites of group identity formation. At the center of Ingres’s oeuvre, portraiture was an integral element in his struggle to negotiate the ideal and real: the particular Scylla and Charybdis of his fraught relations with the academic system, viewers, critics, and portrait sitters throughout his career. Art historian Henri Focillon first provocatively observed in 1927 that portraiture offers a means to decipher the often abstruse pedagogy and practice of the ingriste studio, though he did not pursue this line of inquiry.25 As I shall argue, the genre’s ubiquity in this circle at once gives the lie to the myth that portraiture was external to academic identity and reveals these artists’ navigation of the uncertain waters of history painting in the early and mid-nineteenth century.

Important recent work has emphasized the need to reconceptualize Ingres as an artist engaged with the tumultuous change that defined the period in which he lived and worked.26 Female portraits by Ingres and his circle represented places of innovation and experimentation, sites where these artists actively charted new terrain in the struggle to articulate what “history” might look like at midcentury. If the early decades of the nineteenth century were marked by the “rise of history,” this development had profound effects in the arena of representation, as has been demonstrated by new accounts of the rise of historical genre painting, perhaps the most studied of early nineteenth-century French painting phenomena that manifest new approaches to thinking through history and its representation.27 The careers of Ingres and his students, which together spanned more than the first fifty years of the nineteenth century, took shape in a period when their deeply held self-identification as history painters referred less to a timeless ideal than to a category in flux.

While deployed by Ingres as axiomatic to his practice, “history painting” was both an anxiously policed and remarkably flexible concept by the time of his training in David’s studio. In the nineteenth century, Ingres’s relation to the Davidian tradition hinged on his perception as a history painter—an identification of no small importance in a period marked by mounting alarm that such painting was under threat of extinction. As Ingres’s career progressed, there arose a tension between the artist’s self-identification as history painter and the proliferation of his large-scale, labor-intensive portraits. Notoriously dismissive of the importance of portraiture, Ingres nevertheless brought to the portrait process the seriousness and, indeed, agonistic scrupulousness that defined his training and practice as a history painter.

In their female portraits, Ingres and his students mobilized the techniques of history painting and the rhetorical and formal strategies of allegory and antique monumentality as a means to negotiate the charged terms of fashion and femininity, not to mention the expanding pressures put on painting in what has been called the “age of reproduction.” In their portraits of women, Ingres and his students staged an encounter between the ephemeral, fashionable, female Paris celebrated by Charles Baudelaire—and later Walter Benjamin—and the powerful persistence of the antique both in form and meaning.

As has often been remarked, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, portraiture, especially female portraiture, was conceived as a painting genre linked to the aesthetically debased values of verisimilitude on the one hand and femininity and artifice on the other.28 Portraits of women by Ingres and his circle carefully navigated these terms, which constitute the central tension of their work. Ingres spared no detail of dress or ornamentation in his portraits, an approach that attested to the artist’s acknowledgment of up-to-the-minute fashion. But this apparent nod to feminine sartorial consumption and to verisimilitude—or even to the conjunction of artifice and mimesis—was rigorously held in check by his treatment of the body, the marmoreal transformation from flesh to stone. On the level of art making, the implementation of the processes of academic painting that were inculcated in Ingres’s studio likewise worked to unhinge these artists’ female portraits from the dangerous nexus of ephemerality, surface, and the pleasures of the senses so familiar from eighteenth-century aesthetic debates.

These pressures are relevant to Madame Moitessier of 1856 (fig. 15), one of the most remarkable of Ingres’s late female portraits, which was twelve years in the making and was completed at the apex of his role as accomplished master and chef d’école. The long process by which the painting was realized at once drew upon the lessons of Ingres’s training as student of David and engaged the work of Ingres’s own students. Crucially, the work illuminates the relation of portraiture to history painting for Ingres, elucidates the evolution of the portrait over time, from myriad preliminary studies to final painted product, and reconciles a depiction of the sitter rooted simultaneously in contemporary Paris and in—and as—antiquity. Here, portraiture emerges as a fundamental connective tissue that bound Ingres and David and, subsequently, Ingres and the artists of his circle.

Female portraiture was not widely associated with the work of Ingres and his studio until after the artist’s return from Rome and the establishment of his Paris teaching atelier in 1825. Three exhibitions cemented the public’s identification of the studio with portraits of women: the Salon of 1833, where the term ingriste was coined; the 1846 Bazaar Bonne-Nouvelle Exhibition, which gave the Paris art public a rare opportunity to view Ingres’s work; and the Salon of 1846, where Baudelaire offered a trenchant, acutely insightful analysis of Ingres and his studio’s particular affinity for portraits of women. Baudelaire understood that the uniqueness of the artists of Ingres’s circle lay in their pursuit of portraiture as history. Equally crucial, Baudelaire noted the special, if discomforting, correlation of the form of ingriste portraits to the predilections of their women sitters.

As Baudelaire perceptively recognized, a central problematic for ingriste studio aesthetics was the double threat of despotism, posed at once by Ingres’s famously autocratic pedagogy and by the imagined power wielded by women portrait sitters. But if Ingres was by the mid-1830s infamous for the intransigence of his idiosyncratic style, portraiture provided an aesthetic alibi by which he and the artists of his studio might be seen to make good on their claims to eschew the formulaic Davidian beau idéal in order to copy nature, “to be its very humble servant.”29

Adherents to the essential formula of Leonardo’s disegno and its theoretical marriage of line and body, Ingres and his students rigorously crafted visions of their female portrait sitters through the lens of history painting: mute, frozen, regular, monumental. Indeed, allegory and antiquity, sculpture and contour were the controlling frames employed by Ingres and his students to prevent their sitters from being subsumed by the familiar affiliation of women with color, fard, fashion, and the dangerous undertow by which art was dragged into the vulgar realm of commerce. However, their idealizing, generalizing artistic process and their rendering of flesh as stone was often perceived by period viewers to have a disconcertingly chilling and often defeminizing effect. In one of many such examples, Charles Blanc expressed his anxious concern in 1846 that if one gave in to the seductive appeal of Lehmann’s portrait of Mme Alphonse Karr (fig. 7), whose skin was rendered “polished and hard like ivory,” one risked breaking a tooth in the effort to kiss her.30

Baudelaire, one of the most discerning, if polemical, of Ingres’s critics, probed beneath the frozen surface to articulate what continues to be one of the most powerful topoi of Ingres criticism: Ingres’s devotion to women and the “profound voluptuousness” of his depiction of female subjects.31 In his review of the Salon of 1846, Baudelaire established what has become an enduring strand of interpretation of Ingres’s work: that Ingres’s own desire is to some extent literalized on the frozen, distended, elastic bodies he depicted. Thus, the artist’s own libidinal investment is understood to be manifest in extra vertebrae, in boneless feet, in helium-filled arms, and in shockingly malleable throats—all as legible as the contours marking the form of his glacially erotic figures.32 In this remarkable piece of critical writing, Baudelaire emphasized that this characterization included not only Ingres’s nudes but also his portraits.

If Ingres as lover of women is by now a familiar lens through which his representations of female nudes are viewed, Ingres’s desire has also emerged as a privileged explanatory tool for the artist’s female portraits, whereby the portrait is understood merely as a screen onto which the artist’s desires were projected.33 Despite its ubiquity as a means of analyzing the creation and reception of Ingres’s female portraits, this model elides an equally important factor: the active role of portrait sitters themselves, and what I have termed the sitter’s share.34 Ingres’s portraits and those of his students were the result of often protracted encounters in which the desires of artist and sitter, and in some cases imagined viewers, contributed to the form and meaning of the final works. In this sense, idealization in the context of the ingriste studio was theorized in portraiture as an experiential and dialogic negotiation of the real in the guise of the portrait sitter. As the case studies of Julie Mottez, Marie d’Agoult, and the famed tragedienne Rachel attest, women sitters played decisive roles and emerged as vital interlocutors in a shared aesthetic project. This is of no small importance for our conceptualization of Ingres’s studio. By shifting the frame of inquiry from Ingres as an individual to Ingres as a member of a vital artistic group, and by taking the group’s portraiture seriously as it emerged over time and in dialogue with portrait sitters, a new vision of the studio emerges. I propose here that the ingriste studio should be more expansively conceived, to include both those artists who occupied its architectural frame and those individuals—including the women introduced in this study—who animated the intimate circuits and social networks of ingriste life. Far from simply objects of ingriste transformative portrayal, together with the artists of Ingres’s studio these women were fundamentally engaged in the mutually constitutive practices of community formation and form making.

In-depth examination of particular constellations of artist, sitters, and portraits begins with the abrupt closure of Ingres’s Paris studio in 1835, following his move to Rome. There, he took up the position of director of the Académie de France, but this by no means marked the end of the ingriste studio community. The work of Ingres’s student Victor Mottez, later famed for his revival of fresco technique, attests to the dual emulative orientation of Ingres’s circle, toward both the Italian Renaissance and Greco-Roman antiquity. In Italy, together with his wife Julie, an artist herself, Victor Mottez copied the work of past masters and, critically, enjoyed the afterlife of the eighteenth-century Grand Tour by traveling and collecting antiquities, a passion the couple shared with Ingres. These intersecting practices of copying and collecting contributed to myths of artistic origin that were given visual form in the guise of a fresco portrait of Julie (fig. 54), painted by Mottez on his Roman studio wall. Back in Paris, the fresco portrait—joined by other portraits of Julie by Mottez, Théodore Chassériau, and Ingres—functioned as a talisman of Roman bonds that were forged through the shared commitment to a project of archaeological recovery.

In the late 1830s and early 1840s, Marie d’Agoult, famed as a salonnière, art critic, and historian of the Revolution of 1848, played multiple roles in the orbit of Ingres’s circle in Rome and Paris, as both studio intimate and portrait subject. A remarkable series of portraits of d’Agoult by Henri Lehmann, Amaury-Duval, Chassériau, and Ingres vividly attests to the dialogic processes and intersubjective investments of portrait sitter and her artist interlocutors. Beyond these roles, d’Agoult assumed a new position once back in Paris, that of art critic of an unambiguously ingriste identification. Hers was a pivotal voice in the Parisian press, where she helped define the public face of Ingres’s circle in Paris in 1841. D’Agoult’s relationship to Ingres and his students was based on her recognition of a distinctive aspect of their practice: the representation of powerful, allegorical female subjects. In her art writing and in the productive artistic exchanges that produced portraits of her, d’Agoult advocated for this aspect of the studio’s work, which forcefully intersected with her own philosophical and aesthetic investments.

The studio’s allegorical portrait project was pushed altogether further in 1855, when Amaury-Duval exhibited his allegorical portrait Tragedy at the Exposition Universelle. When the painting was exhibited that year, critics attacked what they considered a studiously classicizing, problematically desexed, mortified, and ultimately incomprehensible representation of its sitter, the well-known actress Rachel. In allegorical portraits of Rachel, Amaury-Duval, Chassériau, and Ingres negotiated the challenges of signification, identification, and embodiment in their attempt to reconcile the sitter’s competing identities as Jewess and “antiquity” reborn, a project in which Rachel was herself profoundly invested. As in the earlier case of Ingres’s seated Madame Moitessier (1856), portraits of Rachel by Amaury-Duval and others relied on a sculptural metaphor to bridge the vertiginous gap between insistent contemporaneity and vaunted antique tradition. However, as Chassériau’s portrayal of Rachel vividly attests, by midcentury antiquity itself was under pressure thanks to emergent archaeological discoveries that contributed to an awareness of a culturally and geographically expanded Mediterranean heritage.

Amaury-Duval’s 1855 exhibition of his portrait of Rachel as Tragedy corresponded with his master’s public apotheosis in the guise of Ingres’s retrospective exhibition—carefully orchestrated by the artist in a private gallery—at that year’s Exposition Universelle. But if Ingres was thus recognized, together with Horace Vernet, Eugène Delacroix, and Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, as a leader of the French school, the artist’s critical reception that year helped consolidate a disconcerting aspect of his work and, by extension, the work of his followers. Photographer, artist, and commentator Félix Nadar unforgettably described Ingres in 1855 as “a painter whose chilliness hatches polar bears.”35 Giving visual form to his own judgment (and those of countless other critics), later that same year Nadar depicted the hilarious—if literally mortifying—effects of exposure to Ingres’s art. The caricature published in Le Journal pour Rire depicted a man being carried, rigid, out of Ingres’s gallery under the watchful eye of the Grande Odalisque, the caption reading “My God, what’s that?—It seems to be a gentleman found frozen in the Ingres room” (fig. 8). Nadar’s understanding of Ingres’s painting as gelid and uncannily mortifying relied on a more broadly held judgment that was solidified by midcentury: art so morphologically bound to antiquity and remote ideality was, for all purposes, dead.

As writer Théophile Thoré remarked with disdain in 1846 on the occasion of the Bonne-Nouvelle exhibition in which the art of David and Ingres was simultaneously exhibited, if master and student shared a sculptural formal language, at least David’s art was engaged and thereby continued the “national tradition” of art with a philosophical, social, and moral program. By contrast, in the hands of Ingres, “Brutus, Socrates, Leonidas have given way to the odalisques.” The central question posed by Thoré—“What was the principle of life animating M. Ingres and his school?”—was ominously answered by the critic: indifference to all matters of religion, philosophy, politics, morality, history, and “to everything that profoundly interests man and society.” Entranced by his love of line and antiquity, Thoré’s Ingres seemed “perhaps a sculptor,” since it was “surely the procedures of sculptors that preoccup[ied] him in painting.”36 Paul Mantz echoed these sentiments when he prophesied that Ingres’s school, “this painting without roots in the past,” would not bear fruit in the future. “Stranger to the passions and miseries” of contemporary life, “for our children [their art] will be like a dead language.”37

Thoré and Mantz give seductive voice to what emerged in the nineteenth century as a powerful trope for understanding the art of Ingres and his students. Informed as it was by their arcane enthusiasms, their art, out of touch and at odds with “the painting of modern life,” was a deadly one that transformed all it touched into stone. Yet this sculptural metaphor so often wielded in writing on Ingres and his school can be viewed in a very different light. Ovid’s transformational tales of mortification and generation offer a guide insofar as they insist on the magic and power of the moment between life and death, between animate life and inanimate matter. Far from simply deploying a despotic sculptural aesthetics of frozen immobility in their portraits of women, Ingres and his students faced down the specter of modernity par excellence: enlisting modern femininity and female agency in the process of classical idealization in order to make history painting viable in a modern world.

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