Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was a French Neoclassical painter. A man profoundly respectful of the past, he assumed the role of a guardian of academic orthodoxy against the ascendant Romantic style represented by his nemesis Eugène Delacroix. Nevertheless, modern opinion has tended to regard Ingres and the other Neoclassicists of his era as embodying the Romantic spirit of his time, while his expressive distortions of form and space make him an important precursor of modern art.
Ingres was born in Montauban. His father was a successful jack-of-all-trades in the arts, from who he received early encouragement and instruction in drawing and music. His education was disrupted by the turmoil of the French Revolution. In 1791, Jean-Auguste-Dominique was enrolled in the Académie Royale de Peinture, Sculpture et Architecture in Toulouse. He was also second violinist in the Orchestre du Capitole, and he would continue to play the violin as an avocation for the rest of his life.
Having been awarded first prize in drawing by the Academy, he traveled to Paris to study with Jacques-Louis David, Europe's leading painter during the revolutionary period. He won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1801 but could only fund his journey in 1806. He left just before the Salon was exhibiting some of his painting —Self-Portrait, portraits of the Rivière family, and Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne—. Ingres was one of five artists selected to paint full-length portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul. Newly arrived in Rome, Ingres read with mounting indignation the relentlessly negative press clippings from. He was really unhappy and vowed never again to exhibit at the Salon.
In Italy he found inspiration and reassurance in the works of Raphael, in Etruscan vase paintings, and in the outline engravings of the English artist John Flaxman. From Rome, he sent works at regular intervals to Paris so his progress could be judged, often poorly received. He produced numerous portraits during this period. After his pension at the Villa Medici ended, he decided to stay in Rome. In 1811 Ingres finished his final student exercise, the immense Jupiter and Thetis, which was once again harshly judged in Paris. Only Eugène Delacroix and other leaders of that romantic movement for which Ingres throughout his long life always expressed the deepest abhorrence seem to have recognized his merits.
Despite harsh review, Ingres got a few important commissions. With the fall of Napoleon's dynasty, he found himself essentially stranded in Rome without patronage. During this low point of his career, Ingres was forced to depend for his livelihood on the execution, of small portrait drawings of the many tourists. Nevertheless, the portrait drawings he produced rank today among his most admired works. In 1817 he received from the ambassador of France his first official commission since 1814, for a painting of Christ Giving the Keys to Peter. Completed in 1820, this imposing work was well received in Rome.
In 1820 he moved with his wife to Florence. The major undertaking of this period was to paint the Vow of Louis XIII for the Cathedral of Montauban. Exhibited at the Salon of 1824, the painting finally brought Ingres critical success. Ingres found himself celebrated throughout France. His fame was extended further in 1826 by the publication of Sudre's lithograph of La Grande Odalisque, which, having been scorned by artists and critics alike in 1819, now became widely popular.
From 1826 to 1834 the studio of Ingres was thronged, and he was a recognized chef d'école who taught with authority and wisdom while working steadily. The critics came to regard Ingres as the standard-bearer of classicism against the romantic school—a role he relished. The paintings, primarily portraits, that he sent to the Salon in 1827 and 1833 were well received. He gladly availed himself of the opportunity to return to Rome, as director of the École de France.
Ingres shortly afterward began the decorations of the great hall in the Château de Dampierre. But soon, devastated by the loss of his wife, the project was abandoned. The following year Ingres, at 71 years of age, married 43 year old Delphine Ramel. This marriage proved as happy as his first, and in the decade that followed Ingres completed several significant works. Ingres died of pneumonia on 17 January 1867, at the age of 86, having preserved his faculties to the last. He is interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris with a tomb sculpted by his student Jean-Marie Bonnassieux.
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