Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Portrait of Countess d'Haussonville, 1845
51.9 x 36.2 in.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) was one of the great Neoclassical painters, following in the footsteps of Nicolas Poussin and his own teacher, Jacques-Louis David. Ingres became the guardian of French academic tradition in the face of rising Romanticism, led by Ingres's nemesis, Eugène Delacroix. Born in Southern France, Ingres's father was a decorative artist, sculptor, and amateur musician. His first instruction came from his father. In 1797, he was awarded first place in drawing by the Academy, which earned him a place in Paris studying with David. He also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and then won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1801 for The Ambassadors of Agamemnon visit the tent of Achilles. Having established himself as the next great history painter, he was soon commissioned to produce a portrait of Napoleon enthroned. His most famous painting is undoubtedly Grande Odalisque (1814). Ingres continued to produce large-scale history paintings, often of Classical subjects, by the end of his career he was better known for his portraits, which were expected to be his greatest legacy. This portrait of the Countess d'Haussonville is one of the finest examples of Ingres's portrait painting. The painting demonstrates his excellent draughtsmanship and attention to line. We can see the fine drapery of the dress, as well as the soft and delicate rendering of the subject's skin. The use of the reflection was a very unusual device for the time, particularly for a traditionalist such as Ingres. The reflection causes a doubling effect and suggests a painting's ambiguous reality, both thing itself and mere representation. While these resonances may not have been deliberate for Ingres, it is impossible to view this painting with a modern eye without such complexities. Meanwhile, the beautiful Countess wears an expression of great savvy and intelligence. She comes across as powerful and engaged, in command of her space, and gazing out at the viewer across the centuries.