Tuesday, February 14, 2012

mistakes of the masters

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres is one of my favorite artists - or at least his drawings are among my favorite works of art. I don't care too much for his paintings - they are overly-slick and have a ceramic sheen that shellacks the life out of them. His drawings, because they are not fussed over nearly so much, retain a feeling of aliveness and spontenaity. You can see the difference between his final oil portrait of Vicomtesse d’Haussonville and his graphite study for the painting.

See? He just shellacked the shit out of that portrait.

I don't doubt that Ingres was a very accurate portraitist - although probably with a tendency to flatter his subjects the way all fashionable and successful artists of the period did.

But one thing he consistently had trouble drawing was limbs, especially for his female subjects. You can see it in these two images. In the graphite drawing he made the Vicomtesse's hand normal size but her index finger is freakishly long. But OK, that's a study, and you can make mistakes in a study that you can correct for the final painting. And he does correct it - her index finger in the painting is a natural size - but now the rest of her hand is freakishly large! In the drawing she's wearing a long-sleeved dress, but you can see that the sleeve on the figure in the drawing would not fit the gigantic wrist of the painting - her wrist is as big as her neck.

I should mention that I approve of this pose - a woman with her left index finger resting against her face is a classic look (ahem).

I won't even get into the freakish angle of the Vicomtess's right arm - exactly where is her right shoulder supposed to be? You can see the entire painting here.

In this  next portrait - not a study for an oil but a complete finished work of art in itself, graphite on paper -we see that Mlle Jos├ęphine Nicaise-Lacroix has an upper arm that is almost as large as her entire waist. Granted she was probably wearing a corset, but still - that's one hell of a hefty bicep, especially for someone we can be fairly sure hasn't been pumping much iron lately. But at least her right hand looks a normal size. He liked that pensive lady look for his portraits.

I just discovered I missed a recent exhibition of Ingres's drawings at the Morgan Library. I'm kicking myself for missing it, but at least they still have interesting things on their web site like this widget, which allows you to zoom in on Ingres's work so you can see all the pencil strokes at larger-than-lifesize. The drawing of Mlle Nicaise-Lacroix is featured in the collection. Here's a close-up of her face from the widget: