Ingres and the mirrors-refuseniks

Ingres is the very embodiment of a standard, a norm, a canon that the story about him simply begs to break the rules; at least, the rules of this blog.

My usual pattern of writing these Big Postings  follows the same scheme: I start, as if being a hard-core psychoanalyst, with some early (psychosexual) childhood of my ‘hero’, then do some musings on the broader socio-cultural context, then get into the hero’s paintings, presented in a direct chronological order. Then (sometimes) I am getting into the mirrors. But because of the massive introduction, I rarely have any energy left to go into a deeper analysis, remaining on a surface of showing one ‘mirror’ after the other, and leaving the posting with the a promise to ‘come back’ and write ‘more’.  (The previous twopart saga about Bonnard is a good example of such style).

Let’s try a different way this time.

In case of  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres I will skip all these lengthy introduction, and will go straight to the essence (to his mirrors, in this case), and will the story about all four of them at once.  I will obviously need some bio-data in some of these stories, but I will try to bring only a bare minimum. For those who will find this info diet too strict, I could recommend to check the basic stuff in the wikipedia article (fairly thorough, I have add).

The order of these four stories about these Four Mirrors of Ingres can be arbitrary; we can go in a direct chronological (see a very simple infoviz that can guide us on this way), or in a reverse chronological order, or, frankly, in any other way. We can even throw the dices.

Why not to try to go against the time? Starting from the end, and slowly moving to the beginning?


1. Madame Moitessier (1856)

Let’s start the description of each work with a simple WYSIWYG. What we see here is a lady sitting on a pink coach, in a magnificent dress (though today many would consider this outfit a bit too carnivalesque) and wearing plenty of jewellery. The woman holds a folded fan in one hand and the other hand support her head, in a nice but also somewhat awkward gesture.

And then of course she seats next to a large mirror.

This mirror occupies almost half of the canvas surface, in fact the entire upper register of the paiting is a depiction of its mirror surface (or rather, of another, Alice-Through-the Looking Glass a world):

In fact, we see here not one, but a whole bunch of these mirror-worlds. It is very rarely noticed that Ingress depicted another mirror in this reflection (and thus another refelction.) Ingres decided not to escalate the situation to ad infinitum,  but present in this paintings are at least four layers of reflection.

I didn’t find any attempt to check how realistic this depiction in terms of optics, or any efforts to reconstruct the room and its mirrors that would make such a composition possible. An optical accuracy of the head and its reflection would also beg for some double-check, but it seems that Ingres has been trusted in the case (though he was making numerous errors in other works, and was caught on that).

Leaving aside the optical accuracy, at leat know who is depicted here by J-A-D Ingres (who was, for the record, a 76 years old man when this work was completed) in 1856. The name of the heroine can be actually found on the painting itself, in the upper right corner: Inès Moitessier (née de Foucauld).

(Ingres was too serious a man to play a trickster game, and inscribe this text reversed by a mirror).

The full (and the first) name of the woman is Marie-Clotilde-Inès de Foucauld. She became Madame Moitessier in 1842, after the marriage with some Sigisbert Moitessier, a successful Parisian merchant and financier. At the time of this marriage she was 21 years old (she was born in 1821), which also means that she must be about 35 years old when the portrait was finished. Yet the women depicted here looks much younger.

Similar to many of other paintings by Ingres, this portrait also has a long and twisted life.

Initial negotiations about this portrait began back in 1844, through some intermediaries (at that time Ingres was, perhaps, the most famous – and most expensive – painter in France.) As a rule, he didn’t take any portrait commissions by then, considering realistic portrait somewhen inferior form of visual art compared to large historical canvases he had been busy with.

However, according to some urban legends, Ingres was so  impressed the young woman’s beauty that we agreed to paint them. ‘Them’ by then also included her two-year old daughter.

Soon Ingress has started to work on this portrait; but here I miss certain references to his biography, and specifically to his way of working. In short, Ingress tended to work very, very slowly.  Up until 1848 the portrait existed only in form of a few preliminary scketches:

There should be more of those, Ingress was usually making numerous studies for his works, and kept most of them. But by know they may be dispersed in multiple museums and private collections, let’s hope more of those will resurface at some point in the future.

Here we  see already a bit more elaborated stage (notice that Ingres initially planned to paint the dress very differently).  .

It is considered ‘common knowledge’ that Ingress copied the woman’s pose from the famous Roman fresco that was recently discovered during the excavations in the ancient town of Herculaneum. He could have seen this work himself, this during the long stay in Italy (the fresco is currently in the Naples Museum).

The story depicted in this fresco is quite ambivalent, I should add. The man standing back to us is Hercules, and the child suckling milk from a deer is one of his numerous illegitimate sons, called Telephus. Whom his grandfather, king Aleus, was planning to kill, because of the prophesy that predicted that he himself would be killed by one of his grandsons. Or actually he first tried to avoid the very possibility of this grandson to emerge, by forcing his daughter Auge to become the priestess of Athena (which meant that she would have to remain a virgin). But then came Hercules, and Plan A didn’t work. Neither did Plan B, and many (melo)dramatic developments occurred as a result. But we agreed that will try to avoid the things psychosexual.

In any case, by 1847 there were no traces of any child on this portrait (and I’ve never seen any drawing with any child, so I am relying only on the written sources that state that the portrait was supposed to be duo). Notice that there was no mirror in these earlier sketches either.

But then in 1849 Ingres’ own wife dies. Then Madame Moitessier got pregnant second time, and the sittings further postponed, and it looks as if the portrait would be never finished.  But in 1851 the idea appears again, and Ingres is kindly reminded that the portrait is still expected. Here it may worth to mention another aspect of his his way of working, Ingress was almost always taking a hefty advance for this work, that sometimes gave his clients a certain lever in case of procrastinations.


And Ingres indeed finishes the portrait really quickly, in less than six months. But it’s a very different porttrait! By the end of 1851 he delivers the so-called “second portrait of  Madame Moitessier,  also without children, but without the mirrors, too:

Fortunately, the work on the first portrait is not abandoned, and approximately be 1852 we already see the ‘mirror part’. We also see that Ingres was planning to include even more mirror reflections. If that would happened, the portrait would be the first work in the history of art depicting the reflection a mirror in the reflection of the reflection of reflection of another mirror (and may be even more Inception-like monstrosity, depending on how we interprete the vey last piece of frame):

Interestingly, but these are not the mirror of the toilettes (i.e., dressing tables). What we see here are the examples of trumeaumiroir, or pier glass, the mirrors that have been placed on the walls between windows. Below you see a few examples of such trumeaus:

The name is a typical example of what I call ‘semantic sliding’ (or ‘semantic gliding’), a gradual evolution of the meaning through a series of (not so) arbitrary slips. Initially trumeau was the name for a column that separated a wall space, and then it came to mean this space itself. Then yet later it became the name of these mirrors placed in these spaces.

In Russian the evolution continued, and ‘tryumo’ gradually evolved into the name of dressing tables with large mirrors (you can see some images here), and then, perhaps because of some similarity between ‘try’ and ‘tri’ (‘three’ in Russian) got the meaning similar to trel’yazh’ (трельяж), a triptych-like mirror, often also attached to dressing tables.  To further  complicate the story, I have to add that the original meaning of  trel’yazh was also very different, it meant trellis.  But now I myself do a lot of semantic sliding, deviating from the main line.

Exactly why Ingres decided to use a mirror in this portrait, what does it mean in this particular context (if anything beyond just a part of interior) and are the meanings of his ‘art mirrors’ are the questions that bother already a few generation of  art historian and critics. Guess what? I am bothered with the very same questions, too. But I will park my own speculations till a bit later, when I will show more of his mirror works,

I will conclude this short description of the last mirror of Ingress with one small detail. Optically speaking, somewhere in this brooch we are supposed to see the reflection of Ingres himself.

Whether he took this opportunity and left his own self-portrait there or not, I do not know. I see some contours there, but the copy I have does not allow to say something with any certainty.

Of other factoids: it’s a fairly large work, 92 x 120, it is currently on display in the National Gallery in London.

2.Countess d’Haussonville (1845)

As is the case with Madame Moitessier, the portrait of Louise de Broglie, Countess d’Haussonville also has a very long story of its making.  The first talks happened in 1840, still in Rome, where Ingres at that time worked as a director of the French Academy in Italy. Title-wise, Louise was only Viscountess back then, so the work is also known as Portrait of Viscountess d’Ossonvil.  Her husband, Joseph Othenin Bernard de Cléron, will become Count d’Ossonvil only in 1846, when the portrait would be already completed.

Louise was a kin of a very different sort than Marie-Clotilde-Inès. The latter could be very nice and cute, but not much more. For instance, for Louise even her titular upgrade to the Countess was, in fact, a depreciation of the rank. Being a daughter of Achille-Léonce-Victor-Charles, duc de Broglie, so she was a princess from the birth. By her maternal side she was also the granddaughter of the famous French writer Germaine de Staël.

This is quite a famous portrait by Marguerite Gérard, painted in 1805, that depicts Germaine de Staël with her daughter, Hedvig Gustava Albertina, Baroness de Staël-Holstein, who 13 years later would become the mother of Louise.

Luise, expectedly, has received excellent education, she was a polyglot and avidly read everything that she could reach. She sung, played music (she was personally acquainted with Chopin, for example). An example of the country’s intellectual elite, Louise de Broglie is the only one in the history of France who was a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother of Academician of the French Academy (bear in mind, these were four completely different persons 🙂  One of her great-nephews, Louis de Broglie, will receive the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on wave theory of matter (and so we now have de Broglie Wavelength).

But all this will happen later, much later. As for now (as in 1840), Ingres starts his works. It took him only five to complete it, and he finishes it already in Paris. However, the very first studies had been done back in Rome – and it’s interesting that in this case the mirror appeared at a very early stage, albeit in a very abstract form:

As often with Ingres, he spends a lot of time polishing every individual element of the portrait:

This is a drawing made already in Paris, where Ingres moved in 1841, and where he soon resumed the work on a portrait of Louise.

As is the case of MadameMoitessier, we see here a fairly young woman, and this is true on one hand, in 1840 Louise is only 22 years old. However, she already had two children (although their first child died when just one year young), and in 1843, when she was regularly sitting for Ingres, she will give birth to the third child. As in the previous case (or, more precisely, in the following one), the children are left outside the canvas.

What’s left inside, besides the figure of woman a bit pretentiously propping her chin with a finger, is a mirror, of course. Not as big as the next time, and not (yet) so numerous, but still a very large mirror. In this case we don’t even see her face in the mirror surface, instead allowed to only gaze at her  neck:

Here we also see on of the most obvious cases when Ingres was wrong, optically speaking. There is no way that we could see this finger in a mirror. The same can be said about a sconce in the upper left corner, we couldn’t see its reflection if it would be a photograph.

Few other nuances that are frequently mentioned: an opera glasses on a table are believed to be added to signify Louise’s passion opera, and people keen to see symbolisms everywhere often interprete the scone without a candle as a reference her poor baby who died so young.

, it is believed that it is added as a sign of passion Louise opera) and chandelier – but without a candle, which is interpreted almost as a sign of the child of the deceased).

This is also a pretty large painting, 92 x 132. It is now with the so-called Frick Collection, a private museum of Western European art in New York.

3. Venus Anadyomene (1848)

Chronologically speaking, this should be the third work in the series of Ingres’ mirrors. However, it is as well can be considered the first one. It was finished around 1848, but if to judge by the first studies by the artist, Ingres began to explore the motif of Venus Anadyomene some forty years earlier, in 1808.

This subject is better known as the Birth of Venus (allegedly from the sea foam.)  By the way, the name Venus Anadyomene is not very accurate, it is a linguistic centaur blending Roman and Greek; more correct version would be Venus Marina.

Ingres spent almost 20 years in Italy during his first Italian Period, from 1806 to 1824, and then another six years later. Counting all this time, he could be considered almost Italian artist, not French. But I mention these years not to sort our his national attribution, but to point that he most likely has seen the most famous Venus Marina of all, the one painted by Botticelli in in mid-1480s. This paiting is now in the Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.

Botticelli has chosen the Pudica, of Venus modest, pose for his creation.  Note that in the early sketch by Ingres Venus was also supposed to be depicted in this way, covering her private parts by hands. There was no mirror planned as yet, but we see a sea shell in this drawing (which, of course, was the ‘mirror’ or which became a mirror of Venus later one, as  I am arguing here: Mirrors and Venuses).

The Venus by Ingress stayed quite long enough in this, Botticelli-like form, this following sketch is dated 1820s (and apparently no mirror still):

I do not know for sure if Ingres have ever seen the original of the Titian’s Venus (below – for some strange reasons that painting is now in Scotland), but he most certainly was familiar with the copies. Titian was one of his favorite artists, whose works he studied throughout his whole life (many critics point out that the paiting of Madame Moitessier resembles many of the Titian’s portraits).

I also don’t know how much the Venus by Titian (depicted as Venus impudique, or Venus immodest) influenced Ingres, but eventually he migrated to that pose, as we see in his drawing from 1840s:

It’s not very clear, in fact, wether this drawing was a follow-up of his earlier studies for a portrait of Venus, or a preliminary sketch for a completely different work. The first Venus was aimed to be sent to the French Academy (he has received a scholarship for his trip to Italy, and had to send back a certain amount of works, as a form of report;  however, he later broke the contract and became a free artist, so the need to complete this work disappeared).

When I write ‘a completely different work’ I mean his famous ‘Girl with a Jug’ (also known as The Spring.) This work also a fairly long biography, typical for Ingres: it was completed only in 1856, but the first sketches could be traced as early as 1820. This painting is currently at the Museum d’Orsay in Paris.


Interestingly, but in this picture there is some sort of ‘mirror refelction’ too, of the girl’s legs girl in the water surface. As it often happened with Ingres-the-realist, this is a completely impossible situation, as the girl is pouring water from her jug into the spring, and herself standing in the foam created by water streams. There is no way that the water surface would be able to accurately reflect anything. But as often happens with the ‘realists’,  they value their ideas about reality more than the reality itself.

But Ingres managed to completed his Venus portraits earlier than the Jug Girl, and the latter was in fact very much influenced by these earlier works. Or most likely it was a co-production of some sort, as the pose of the girl had an impact on the goddess’ one, too.

Speaking about poses, the one of the Girl with Jug is a bit awkward but in principle understandable, this is how vessels are carried in many cultures. If we take the jug away, the pose becomes completely weird:

There is no reason for this pose except to show the Venus impudique in all her immodesty.

Earlier I wrote ‘Venus portraits’, in plural, and there are indeed two of them. The one that I showed earlier is a larger version, 163 x 92 cm, for some reason placed in the oval frame. It is now in the Musée Condé in a small and little known Chantilly, near Paris.  The rectangular version above is a smaller copy of this work, (about 70 x 50 cm), now exhibited in Louvre.

Speaking about the mirror – a small mirror is depicted on both versions, and in both cases historically inaccurately. If Ingress would be really concerned with accurate portraying of ancient history, he would painted metal (bronze) mirrors, the only one that existed at the time of ancient Romans and Greeks. He, however, was more preoccupied with romantic fairy tales about these ancient times, that are least concerned with such small details. His mirror is therefore a glass hand-held mirror, with contemporary design.

He also had an opportunity to make this mirror working, and reflecting the goddess’ face; instead, the mirror is refused its mirror role, and only reflects the hand of the cupid.

4. Madame de Senonnes (1814)

Chronologically-speaking, the Portrait of Madame Senonnes is the first completed ‘mirror work’ by Ingres. It also has the most dramatic story of all of them, perhaps.

This portrait probably commissioned  in 1812, in Rome. Back then Ingres was younger and not so hyper-famous, and worked a little bit faster. It is interesting that the client was artist, Alexandre de la Motte-Baracé, Vicomte de Senonnes, the youngest son of Marquis de Senonnes (from the very youth Ingres tried to get his commissions only from aristocracy).

However, there were some issues with the (not so) aristocratic origin of the sitter, called Marie Marcoz. For a long time it was thought that the viscount picked up his mistress, and later wife, literally from the streets of a dubious Trastévére quarter in Rome (and the painting was earlier known as Trastévérine,)

Later, based on the searchers in archives, it was discovered (or rather rediscovered, as it wasn’t any secret for the contemporaries) that Marie Marcoz was born (in 1783) in French town Isère, in a family of wealthy and respectable merchants. She has received excellent education, and 1802  married Jean Talensier, also a merchant who soon moved to Rome to develop his business there. They even had a daughter born in 1803, a year after their wedding.

Further versions of the story are different: some say that Marie was widowed, other state she got a divorce (?) In any way, by 1809 she lived in Rome alone, and had a very successful salon. This is where in 1810 she met Vicomte de Senonnes and soon became his lover. The family of de Senonnes was not impressed with her origin, and never approved their relationships nor accepted  their marriage later on.

On the very first sketches for the portrait Ingres depicted Marie in a very different pose, reclining on a coach.

This drawing bears strong resemblance with the famous Portrait of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David. This portrait was not only very well known to Ingress, he even took part in its creation when he worked as apprentice in the workshop of David back in Paris.

If Ingres would stick to this pose, we would not any ‘first mirror’; and who knows, but perhaps we wouldn’t see any other mirrors in his later works either. But something has clicked in his head (I’d love to know more what has triggered this ‘click’), and decided to depict a sitting model on a couch, not a reclyning one.

As it will happen with his other mirror works, we see not mirrors in earlier sketches. Ingres could easily make this portrait mirror-less, as he did with dozens before, and many dozes after.

Yet we (i.e., art-mirrors-lovers) were are enough to have such an amazingly beautiful mirror!

I deliberately have chosen this filter that distorts the color but allows to better see the size of this visual ‘black hole’ created by Ingress in this painting. The dark background creates a perfect backdrop for the figure of the woman, but also a deep abyss into the Alice & Co type of space.

Moving from the background to the figure, we have an incredible feast of colors and textures per every square centimeter of this painting. Bear in mind that was a work of relatively young master, Ingres was only 30 when this work was commissioned, but what we see is a true masterpiece of color. The dark-red velvet dress, the mustard-yellow cushions, the silver lace collar, the pleated cashmere shawl, the jewelries – all that  creates an incredible kaleidoscope.

Renoir considered this painting the most beautiful work by Ingres – but he also added “[To] really deeply feel before the end of this picture, it is necessary to go to Nantes; she is one of those works of Ingres, who conveys good picture, it must be seen in the original,definitely.”

This is the first mirror by Ingres, and will remain the only one that is depicted not as an abstract glass surface, but somewhat embedded in the daily routines: the painter put a few visiting cards (predecessors of the contemporary business cards) in its frame. These cards can be read as hint to the popularity of the Madame Senonnes’ salon. One of them is of Ingress himself, in this way both putting the signature on his own work and adding a point to the score of admiration with her beauty and grace.

The portrait will become a valuable art object only much later, but at the moment of its creation the work has another, more pragmatic value. The portrait is both a wedding present and a vivid seal of their union, the one that had never been accepted by the viscount’s family. Unfortunately, Marie de Sennon died in 1828, quite early (she was only 45 years old by then). The viscount kept the portrait in his cabinet until his own death in 1851, after which it was inherited by his son. But the rest of his family hated his marriage so much that even after the death of the couple tried to destroy this painting. One of the viscount’s relatives slashed the portrait with a dagger, trying to disfigure the face of Marie. Apparently, in spite of all the efforts to restore the work the traces of these cuts are still visible on her lip.

After the death of their son, his wife (ie, already a widow) sold the portrait for pennies to one of the antiquaries in Angers in 1852. Luckily for us, the paiting was spotted by another artist who was familiar with this work by Ingres, and soon the portrait was acquired by the Nantes’ Museum of Fine Art (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes). Now it is of course regarded as one of the main pearls of their collection:



Have I covered all the mirrors by Ingress? yes, and now. To my knowledge, there are no other paintings by him that would depict mirrors, but there is one drawing, of 1849, apparently a study for yet another portrait, so called Portrait of Countess Charles d’Agoult and her daughter Claire.

This work has never been completed. If it was, it would be his fifth mirror, and the first one depicting the one of a fire mantle (although he could also put another one, similar to his other trumeau mirrors.


This, I’ve done with the factual side, and showed all the known mirrors of Ingres. What’ left to tell is perhaps a more important and meaningful part, on the role and the meaning of all these works (and their mirrors), both in the Ingres’ ouvreau, and in the history of art_mirrors in general.

Do his mirrors ‘reflect’ something new and interesting in the business of depicting mirrors? I don’t think so, content-wise (and I mean mirror-content-wise) artists were creating similar works at least a century before Ingress. In fact, I have already shown many similar works even in this blog – look, for instance, at the Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, by François Boucher:

In was created in 1752 (!), more than a century before the one of Madame Moitessier.  In this context all three large mirrors by Ingres can be considered as relatively bleak allusions to this and many similar works by Boucher.

The genre was far from trendsetting France-only. Even in Russia, quite a marginal culture art-wise, we can find the works like this portrait of Catherine the Great:

It was painted in 1776 by Danish artist Vigilius Eriksen.

Knowing Ingres’ predisposition to everything classical, and playing the cards of alternative histories, I could easily imagine the works similar to this one:

One such paiting would place Ingres to a very different, elite league of masters, and he would be praised tremendously by a wide variety of thinkers such Freud, Jung or Lacan. Alas.

The above collage was inspired by the work of a more contemporary author, some Calum Colvin from the UK:

Which in turn bring back the idea to also write a posting about reinterpretations and re-appropirations of the Ingres’ works (where I hope to find some mirror-works there, too).

Now, and of I consider Ingres not so very original, why should I bother to write about his mirror-art, then?

The problem is that the amount of people who, like myself, consider Ingres not very remarkable a painter is really, really small. The majority, on the contrary, believe he was a Truly Genius Artist, the Titan of Brush, the Colossus of Pencil, and similar Grand Titles.

Ingres is such a giant blob in the history of art that it’s hardly possible to ignore or bypass him (ask Delacroix who he was trying to pave his own way and whom Ingres was toppling all his life.) Any remotely critical comments about Ingres have been considered by the armies of his admirers as the insult of the very foundation of the Art Sacral.

(I remember this postal stamp from my childhood, it was issued in 1980, in commemoration of his 200th anniversary, but also to represent ‘The French Art’ of the entire 19th century)

In this way it is important to write about Ingres’s mirrors even if only to follow the principle “know your enemy better”. Speaking less poetically and more pragmatically, it’s worth to know his works, and the critical works about his art also because both have been making quite an impact on art life, still.

For instance, my own postings about Degas, especially the one about his earlier works (Mirrors of De Gas. Part I), can not be properly understood without the references to the mirrors of Ingres. Degas himself was calling Delacroix his ‘art teacher’, but in reality it was Ingres who made a much stronger impact on Degas’ earlier works (also because of the Degas’ own trips to Italy where the cult of Ingres was vividly present at that time).


Earlier I omitted the story about Ingres’ biography and the so called ‘earlier psychosexual development’, with an assumption that I would tell this at the end. I am now inclined to omit them entirely, partly because there is a very good intro into all basic facts and factoids in the wikipedia page, and why should I repeat all that here? Speaking about the “earlier psychosexual”, I would actually love to learn more about this side of this life myself, as I still didn’t find any good book about Ingres’s childhood (not that I am a huge fun of (pseudo)psychoanalysis, but sometimes some facts about early childhood do provide interesting insights about later works.

There is one interesting, a more recent vignette that it would be worth noting here. (Surprisingly, it’s not even mentioned in the wikipedia article I am referring to earlier).  I mean the ‘investigation’ of Ingres’ worls by David Hockney and his compatriot Charles Falco, who are now known as the authors of the so called Hockney–Falco thesis.

Their theory is described in the book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. This book was published in 2001 and by now its arguments are supposed to be a common knowledge (I don’t want to say that these arguments are all valid, but the fact that these ‘accusations’ have been made should already be  part of an art history landscape.)

I mentioned Hockney-Falco already, few times in fact, in the postings about Jan van Eyck, and Vermeer, and Caravaggio, and of course in the very posting about Hockney himself (The other mirrors of David Hockney). The most ‘scandalous’ part of their theory is indeed related to the works of various Renaissance masters, and it is less known that they also analysed more contemporary works, such as the ones by Ingres. ‘Of course’, they also found that many of these works were made with the use of various aids. Only in this case they suggested the use of сamera lucida, not plain convex mirrors, as alleged for the old masters (though to my knowledge in the H & F’s latest, revised book they also suggest that some sort of rudimentary camera obscure have been used by the old masters, too).

The main difference between these optical devices is that the camera lucida does not require a dark room to produce a replica of an image. Its principles had beed discovered already in the beginning of 17th century (allegedly by Johannes Kepler, in his Dioptrice (although today some researchers argue that these principles had been known already to Arabs, Persians and Chinese in the times prehistoric.)

However, to make a working version of this device became possible only in the beginning of the 19th century, and in 1807 the British physicist William Hyde Wollaston created a system of prisms that allowed a copying and image (or a real scene) even in a day light. Below is the cover of the Philosophical Magazine where the description of his devices was first published:

Very soon the invention became incredibly popular, and not surprisingly, because allowed anyone who had some basic drawing skills to create a fairly decent artworks. The next picture shows how easy was the process of creating accurate representations of the original models.

Hockney and Falco argue that this is exact the device that transformed the young artist who was creating this type of works (below is one of the earliest known portraits by Ingres, made about 1796; a good work, by no means, but indistinguishable from hundreds and thousands similar works of that time):

into something like that:

This portrait is amazingly realistic, with a subtle, complex works of lines and shades. Notice, says Hockney, that this drawing is very accurate, almost photorealistic only in one small area (the face), but becomes unremarkable in the rest of the surface. This is exactly what a camera lucida would allow one to create.

To prove his claims, Hockney has decided to set up an ‘artistic investigative experiment’. Employing a camera lucida, he created – to my knowledge, very quickly, in a matter of a day or few, a series very realistic portraits (of police officer, for the record):

He then juxtaposed them against a series of works by Ingres, and suggested that the viewers would make their own conclusions.

You can imagine (and more precisely, you can not even imagine, perhaps), all the dins and screams produced on this occasion by the Ingres’ defence, and the volumes of accusations about Hockney himself (“a fool who himself can’t draw” was among the softest).

I thin all this hubbub is missing the point. And speaking about the point, it wasn’t in whether Ingres’s using a camera lucida or not (later in his life he could already use a photo camera even). Later in 19th century many painters started to openly use the camera in their work (I wrote about Degas and Bonnard, but also about Breitner who all used cameras, but that didn’t make them bad artists).

In fact, Barnett Newman, American abstract painter (a highly abstract one, just look at one of his works called The Cathedra:


so Newman was saying that Ingres is really a conceptual artist: “He looked at the canvas more often than at the model”. I don’t know even if these are the words of Newman and the quote from Ingres’ own diary. Ingres wrote many times that he sees the purpose of art not in replicating reality, but in constructing ‘higher, better ideas’.

And here merges the line of my own criticism: I don’t really care how photorealistic his works, but I do care that the concepts they express are pretty boring. If one wants to be ‘conceptual’, then do conceptualise, and do it boldly!

The above work is by Taner Ceylan (read more into his explorations into Psychology of a Famous Portrait here), and I just added a symbolic marker to link it to this blog.



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