Project – Exploring Coloured Media

Research Point – Jean Ingres. A nineteenth century master of detailed drawing?
Jean Ingres was born in Montauban a small town in France in 1780. His father, a multifarious artist, encouraged Ingres to learn drawing and music and whilst his early education faltered due to the French Revolution in 1791 he enrolled at the Academie Royal de Peinture in Toulouse where he studied painting and the violin.

In 1797 Ingres went to Paris to study at the studio of Jacques Louis David, considered Europe’s leading painter at the time, He  followed his master’s neo-classical style and was inspired by the works of Raphael and was an impressive student. He stayed at the studio for about four years and during this time he was also admitted to the Ecole des Beaux Arts and following a tied second place in 1800 in 1801 he won the Grand Prix de Rome a grand achievement bearing in mind he was only twenty-one.

In 1806 he travelled to Rome where he studied, drew and painted but also spent time in Naples. When the prize money ran out he supplemented his income from State commissions with many graphite portraits of tourists and dignitaries. These drawings, although probably menial in Ingres’ mind, were much acclaimed as accurate likenesses and were held to be “skilful, concise masterpieces” and also “Ingres’s outstanding evocation of place, light, and character in these seemingly casual portrait drawings established him as one of the most revered draughtsmen in art history.“

Ingres left Rome in 1820 and went to Florence for four years returning to Paris in 1824. However he returned to Rome in 1834 as the Director of the Academie de France a Rome and then back to Paris in 1841. He had his own atelier through which many students passed he was recognised as a good teacher.

His output as a painter during these periods won him plaudits such as “one of the greatest painters in France” and he was awarded the Legion d’honneure in 1845 and a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1855.

Ingres was an active painter until his death from pneumonia in 1867. One of his most famous paintings was painted at the age of 82 – The Turkish Bath.


Despite some criticism of his early works, albeit fine paintings, during his lifetime Ingres created a considerable number of paintings in a Classical or Renaissance style. His range of subjects included portraits, sensual nudes, groups and landscapes and from his middle age was in good demand for commissions and able to command high prices.

His style was traditionalist but his painting talents were noted by “he was moved by the impulse to penetrate the secret of natural beauty and to reinterpret it through his own means”. He subscribed to clear and precise form, balanced compositions, and idealised beauty. He shared much of the same interest in exotic and erotic subject matter that had attracted the Romantics.

It was probable that Ingres was a perfectionist reflected by the time it took for him to complete a painting and it was usual for him to make many alterations to a piece.

However it was not just his paintings that Ingres was famous for. He was very much, and maybe mostly, admired for his detailed drawings of which many of his best came from his years in Rome.. His technique was to use finely pointed or chiselled graphite pencils on a smooth white paper usually woven. His portrait drawings would take about four hours and required little later retouching.

His style of drawing, contrary to his painting, was fresh to the age and the following quotes provide an educated view of his drawing talents –

“His drawings are distinguished by their careful containment of form, perfect lines, and subtle shadings,” says Phillip Wade, a painter and painting instructor at the Art School at the Austin Museum of Art, in Texas. “I’ve never seen anyone who could do outlines as well as he could.”

“Ingres was a miraculous technician,” adds Frank Wright, a painter and professor of art at The George Washington University and the Corcoran College of Art and Design, both in Washington, DC. “He was one of the most remarkably assured draftsmen who ever lived. When he put a line on, he did it with such certainty. How did he draw with such authority? It’s one of the things you can’t teach about Ingres, but you can be aware of.”

“Ingres draws with a more subtle and various line than any of his contemporaries,” wrote the late Agnes Mongan, who directed the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1969 through 1971 and was a pioneer in the study of drawings. “Shading is sometimes done with fine hatching; sometimes by smoothing with a stump, and there is an occasional discreet touch of wash. But these types of modeling are kept to a minimum. Line is supreme,” she wrote. “With a graphite line that is constantly and finely adjusted—now narrow, now thick, pressing firmly or more swiftly—he defines contours with a remarkable range of modulations. Form is described above all by such calibrations of contour as well as by direction of a line.”

“He was excellent at gesture, but contour held that musicality for him,” says Wright, who as a graduate student working under museum director Agnes Mongan researched and analyzed Ingres drawings in the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection at the Fogg Art Museum. “Of course, Ingres stacked the deck in his favor by deliberately using a frontal light. “If you have light coming from the side, it emphasizes the sculptural effect. But front lighting emphasizes the edges, the arabesque line that Raphael, who was Ingres’ god, involved himself so much with. Raphael did a lot with the curves of the form, the edges of the form. Raphael, Ingres, and others knew when to interrupt the line, to allow the light to come in, so the line is not continuous. They let it be broken to show the saturation of the form in light, or be bolder on the other side to show the form is turned away from the light.

Wright believes Ingres had a wonderful feeling, a sensitivity toward people. Mongan notes, “He even captures their self-consciousness in posing.”

Ingres once said – “To really succeed in a portrait, first of all one has to be imbued with the face one wants to paint, to reflect on it for a long time, attentively, from all sides, and even to devote the first sitting to this”. Indeed, he had a way of capturing the core personality of a sitter. Ingres believed that his accuracy came from careful observation and to achieve this he would draw a sitter in the morning, enjoy a lunch with the sitter, presumably to capture a more relaxed person, and then complete the drawing in the afternoon.

henry-iv-playing-with-his-children[1]         mr-and-mrs-woodhead-with-rev-henry-comber-as-a-youth.jpg!HalfHD[1]

In addition to the above comments, my observations of his drawings reveal an apparent simplistic style where very little detail is given within the outline of the drawing. However the internal marks that he does make convey significant statements.

There is also an absence of the usual shadows to accent form which effect is presumably obtained by the use of direct, frontal lighting. However the outcome is to give a flat appearance to his subjects who were nearly always facing him. The artist’s view would therefore be that of the observer of the drawing. His drawings are not devoid of shadows though he is sparing in their use.

He appears to portray depth or solidity in the image by light shading and many of his edges are defined by shading, albeit with a solid finish, and not line He uses shading again to portray surface changes.

In portraits he features the head with his highest tonal values as to make it the most important element of the drawing.

otto-magnus-von-stackelberg-and-possibly-jackob-linckh.jpg!HalfHD[1]       madame-charles-hayard-born-jeanne-susanne.jpg!HalfHD[1]

He was known for accurate anatomic drawing. Even when the model was clothed he would be aware of the physical being beneath the fabric and adjust the drawing to fit. To accentuate anatomical detail he would feature, say, a muscle by continuing the outline along the muscle before returning to the line of the body again.

His style, whilst superb, does appear a little dated by modern standards, perhaps a little harsh in places. Maybe if he had the range of graphite implements that are available nowadays his drawings might have been a little more subtle.

Does Ingres “exemplify mastery in detailed drawing”? His use of detail is not extreme but then in general it wasn’t in his day. There were no photo-realist draughtsmen then. His use of detail was understated and led the brain to believe there was more than meets the eye.
madame-johann-gotthard-reinhold-born-sophie-amalie-dorothea-wilhelmine-ritter-and-her-two.jpg!HalfHD[1]       study-for-princesse-albert-de-broglie-born-josephine-eleonore-marie-pauline-de-galard-de.jpg!HalfHD[1] study-of-hands-and-feet-for-the-golden-age[1]Quotes –

Images – Wikimedia.


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