Among the many exhibits currently on display in Paris is one, displayed in the basement of the Louvre, which highlights a favorite artist of mine, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
During my years in undergraduate school and amidst a hopelessly wild love affair with figure drawing (still raging today), Ingres was undeniably among my personal heroes; someone whose drawings I venerated. I desperately endeavored to identify my own efforts with the spirit of his vision and to somehow emulate the expressive beauty I found in his underpaintings, in his pencil strokes. In my own developmental history, I remember him fondly.
While I have never been particularly excited about his paintings -- generally, painfully detailed and intentionally flattering portraits of affluent friends and clientele --
far too perfect and devoid of any meaning or personal significance, I have always admired his drawings which are often more illusive and tricky to locate in the "flesh" (parchment?). For my money, the best place to view his studies and sketches is the Musee Ingres in Montauban, France.
Examining the drawings of Ingres, beyond the perfectly crafted facade of portraiture and the illustrative qualities of the portrayal of charming upper crust in all of their French finery is an authentically perceptive response to the people and surroundings whose imagery he was commissioned to capture, interpret and preserve.
True, Ingres lived in a time (early to mid 19th century) when photography was not yet a scientific commonality or a cultural staple and thus a good copyist was a necessity for the wealthy. It offered a lucrative lifestyle for the well-connected artisan who might be trained and talented in such craftsmanship. Nevertheless, it is his ability to see, the soft fluidity of his mark, the initial expressiveness of Ingres' imperfect studies and unedited hand that have always drawn my greatest respect and appreciation. Underneath the goop of the finished Ingres painting lies vitally expressive commentary.
When I revisit artwork such as this, it gently reminds me how truly liberating the invention of the camera has been for contemporary art, removing the need to replicate and squarely placing self-expression at the forefront of modern artistic objective.
No matter, I continue to love Ingres' work, despite the fact that one has to dig through the immensely padded outer layers of boring paintings and perfectly produced copying to finally get to the good stuff; to discover the lyricism of the true artist. Well worth the trouble.
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