Ingres at the Morgan

Ingres at the Morgan, graphite drwaings of ean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Throughout my life I’ve been fortunate to experience a series of wonderful “Ah-Ha!” moments when I’ve come across a new genre or artist that made me feel like I was opening my eyes on a new world.

Discovering the graphite portrait drawings of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres when I was an art student was one of them.

Ingres (pronunciation here) was a renowned French neoclassical painter and one of the finest draftsmen of the 19th Century, if not of Western art in total.

Though he drew in most traditional drawing media, chalk, “crayon” and pen and ink, it was his graphite on paper portrait drawings that wowed me. They have an uncanny presence and weight that belie their actual technique.

Ingres was primarily a portrait painter, and is considered one of the best in the history of art.

His portrait drawings have that amazing character of faces rendered with such skill that they have a palpable personality, but lead your eye into economically rendered bodies and hands that are clearly lines on paper.

I love the sensation produced by the contrast of responding to a drawing as a personality, and within the space of the same drawing, responding to it as a drawing.

I’m not sure if my description is adequate to explain what I mean, but I think anyone who has experienced what I’m trying to describe will recognize the delight it can bring to those who love drawings. (For another example, see Rubens’ portrait drawing of Isabella Brant.)

It also astonishes me how tight and detailed the faces in Ingres’ portrait drawings look on first inspection, but how freely they are actually rendered when viewed more closely.

I’ve been lucky to have seen several of Ingres’ drawings in person; these are relatively rare opportunities as works on paper cannot be exposed to light for long periods without shortening their effective lifespan. Several of those occasions have been at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, which counts several excellent examples of Ingres drawings in its permanent collection.

Those in the area can still catch an exhibition of sixteen of them titled Ingres at the Morgan, that is on display until November 27, 2011.

For those who can’t get to the museum in person, the Morgan has a terrific online feature, in which the drawings can be viewed in full-screen zoomable versions. The page of thumbnails is here. When viewing the detail page for an individual drawing, look for the inconspicuous “Full Screen” button at the right of the row of controls under the image.

There is also a nice accompanying feature on Ingres’ drawing materials and methods.

Ingres’ drawings may make you think differently about the capabilities of the humble graphite pencil.

6 Replies to “Ingres at the Morgan”

  1. Beautiful! Thank you for the post. I remember first seeing an Ingres drawing in my parents’ encyclopedia under P for portrait. His work looks stunning now – imagine how amazing his work looked in the days before photography was commonplace.

  2. Thanks for this fabulous post. I think the Morgan has one of the absolute best museum websites. It makes available in great detail so much information one might not even think to look for. Anyone interested in Ingres’ drawing should read the materials and techniques part which has wonderful examples for support.

  3. Many thanks Charley – this post is going to be featured on “who’s made a mark this week?” accompanied by strong recommendation that all those interested in drawing, portraiture and realism get themselves over here to look at the images on this blog.

    I had a similar “aha” moment when much younger and have followed Ingres ever since. I like his drawings more than his paintings – and in fact modelled a lot of my drawing of people on his approach. (see )

    I have a book filled with Ingres Drawings at a decent size so I can see all the ways in which his drawing is NOT tight at all. Looking at this book is a bit like getting a box of chocolates and being able to eat the whole box – savouring every one – but with no inches gained in the process! (Female friends will know what I mean!)

    Thanks again for this post

  4. Yes, I remember the same moment I first saw his drawings and paintings. It has been a while since I looked at his work so as always your posts serve as reminders.
    The zoomable online feature is fantastic. Looks like I’ll be there for some time!
    And nice touch with the pronunciation link Charley, although I was disappointed to learn I have been miss-pronoun-see-ating it all these years… darn, I now have to retrain my brain for the correct one.

  5. Lovely post! Thank you for the details and the links, as well; much appreciated by those of us who can’t get to the Morgan right now. You might also want to read David Hockney’s book “Secret Knowledge,” which discusses drawing techniques and how they shifted, quite suddenly, once lenses came into greater use… Hockney has a good section on Ingres there… very helpful in allowing us to “see.”

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