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Morgan Library & Museum Opens Exhibition of Drawings by Ingres

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867) is among an elite group of nineteenth-century French masters whose style is almost instantly recognizable. Arguably the greatest portraitist of his time, Ingres was a brilliant draftsman, and his drawings have long been prized along with his paintings. The Morgan Library & Museum presents sixteen superb drawings and three letters by Ingres from its collection, together with one exceptional loan, in a focused exhibition in the Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery. Running through November 27 the show spans Ingres’s career and provides visitors with an intimate look at a draftsman who is indisputably one of the greatest in French history.

Ingres’s Neoclassicism has often been framed in opposition to the Romanticism of Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault, as well as other artists associated with France’s Revolutionary Era. This view tends to obscure a freshness and originality that Ingres shared with his contemporaries. Happily for visitors to the Morgan, the Ingres exhibition will run concurrently with David, Delacroix, and Revolutionary France: Drawings from the Louvre, which features a further ten sheets by the artist among the more than seventy drawings from the Louvre chronicling the period book-ended by the Revolution of 1789 and the establishment of the Second Empire in 1852—largely encompassing the years of Ingres’s career.

“The Morgan is delighted to present this exceptional group of drawings by an artist whose influence was widespread in his day and continued into the twentieth century,” said William M. Griswold director of The Morgan Library & Museum. “Ingres was famous for his devotion to a classical style, yet a number of modern artists, such as Matisse and Picasso, were profoundly indebted to him. We are especially pleased to present this exhibition in the context of the larger show of drawings from the Louvre, allowing visitors to see Ingres in the broad sweep of his time.”

The show will chronicle the major phases of the artist’s career, beginning with Portrait of a Boy of c 1793–4, which he executed when he was a thirteen or fourteen-year-old student at the Académie Royale in Toulouse. When Ingres entered the Paris studio of
Jacques-Louis David in 1797, he abandoned the fine modeling of graphite and sensitivity to minute detail that characterize this early drawing. Also on view is a preparatory drawing for Oedipus and the Sphinx of 1808, which dates from the period when the artist was a pensionnaire at the Villa Medici in Rome. Like many of his fellow foreign artists in Rome, Ingres explored and sketched local monuments such as St. Peter’s, the Palazzo Barberini, and Santa Maria Maggiore. An extraordinary cityscape, View of Santa Maria Maggiore of ca. 1813–14, was likely executed in a sketchbook that Ingres carried with him to a preferred vantage point on the Esquiline Hill. He precisely rendered the church facade, but merely outlined the baroque sculptures and the procession leading away from the entrance.

In the years following his studies, Ingres established an important studio on Rome’s Via Gregoriana where he worked on imperial commissions and painted and drew portraits of French occupation officials and their families. Portrait of Hippolyte Devillers of 1812 features the Director of Probate and Estates who moved to Rome the previous year and sat for Ingres on at least three occasions. Pictured as a bachelor at the age of forty-seven, Devillers appears somewhat nervous and delicate, as if he has not quite gained confidence in his new office. One of the most iconic drawings to be included in the exhibition is Ingres’s Portrait of Monsieur Guillaume Guillon Lethière of 1815, which depicts the new Director of the French Academy in Rome in all his convivial pomposity. The delicate and naturalistic shading of Lethière’s round face juxtaposed to the rapid and jagged lines of his collar clearly demonstrate why Ingres is considered an unparalleled master of portraiture.

The Morgan Library & Museum is internationally renowned for its extensive collection of literary and historical manuscripts, and the Ingres exhibition includes not only drawings but also three revelatory letters by the artist. In one poignant example, written to Marie-Anne-Julie Forestier, Ingres’s fiancée, the artist laments his intense homesickness during his first days in Rome. He writes, “I lie down from nine at night until six in the morning, I do not sleep, I roll around in my bed, I cry, I think continuously of you . . .” Nine months later, Ingres would break his engagement, blaming his unwillingness to return to Paris after the negative reviews his paintings had received at the Salon.

Ingres once told a pupil that if he placed a sign above his studio door, it would read Ecole de Dessin (School of Drawing). The centerpiece of the exhibition is the large-scale graphite and black chalk Odalisque and Slave of 1839, which likely served as the model for the engraved version of the subject. The epitome of exoticism and orientalism, this exquisite drawing is emblematic of the erotic tales of Arabia that had captured the imagination of nineteenth-century Paris.

The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street, New York, NY 10016-3405

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