Closely associated with the Neoclassical movement, the French artist Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres was born in southern France in the town of Montauban in 1780. Although Ingres regarded his history paintings as his most important works, he is best remembered for his portraits, both drawn and painted. Art historians have also concluded that Ingres’s expressive style is an important precursor to twentieth century art.
Ingres was the eldest of five children to parents Jean Marie Joseph Ingres and his wife Anne Moulet. The older Ingres was a practitioner of the arts painting miniatures, sculpting, and doing decorative stonemason work. In 1791 he enrolled his son at the Academie de Peinture, Sculpture, et Architecture in Toulouse. Studying under the painter Joseph Roques, Ingres came under the influence of Raphael. In 1787 Ingres went to Paris to study with the painter Jacques-Louis David. Ingres won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1801 for his painting Ambassadors of Agamemnon in the Tent of Achilles, but the artist did not travel to Rome until 1806.
While Ingres was in Italy a Paris Salon exhibit led to severe criticism of his paintings Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne and portraits of the Riviere family. Critics called his work gothic. In turn, Ingres would not return to Paris which resulted in a broken engagement to his fiancé Marie-Anne-Julie Forestier. During his subsequent studies in Rome, Ingres sent many other paintings to Paris, but critics continued to judge them harshly. Ingres married Madeleine Chapelle in 1813.
Ingres received important commissions while in Italy including his works Virgil Reading the Aeneid (1812), Romulus’s Victory over Acron (1812), and La Grande Odalisque (1814). When commission work began to dry up, Ingres turned to portrait work drawn in pencil. Although Ingres was displeased to rely on the portraits, he is highly praised today for their extraordinary composition and high quality.
It was not until 1824 that Ingres’s painting would achieve serious success in Paris. Ingres was celebrated throughout France for the Vow of Louis XIII. And, although earlier disparaged by critics and other artists alike, a lithograph publication of La Grande Odalisque became immensely popular. Ingres continued to paint and two later paintings would become his master works—Louis-Francois Bertin (1832) and The Turkish Bath (1862).
Ingres’s wife died in 1849. At the age of seventy-one, Ingres married forty-three year old Delphine Ramel in 1852. This was also a happy marriage for the artist. Ingres died of pneumonia in 1867. Montauban renamed its city museum Musee Ingres which is a major attraction today. The expressive nature of Ingres’s work, while criticized during his life, was praised by later artists such as Degas, Picasso, and Matisse.