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Musée d’Orsay: Ingres – The Source

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Ingres - The SourceINGRES, a great lover of lapidary formulas, once emitted this axiom: “The drawing is the probity of art.” Unshakeable in his cult of form, drawn first from David’s studio but especially from school of Raphael, Ingres never sacrificed the drawing to color. He did not worry about her. It always came, sure, sober and modest. It followed the drawing as a docile slave who must escort her master and walk at the same pace, but at a distance. “Color,” he said, “adds ornaments to painting, but she is only the lady of the attire.”

In all his works, perhaps, as well as in The Source, the admirable artist has pushed as far as the science of drawing and the perfection of form. Before arriving at the definitive execution, what sketches, what research, what studies! The hands, legs, head, feet and position of the amphora were subjected to long attempts, countless reworkings, the trace of which is found in the cartoons of the painter, and which testify to a mistrust of self that only the senior masters knew. At the time when he was preparing The Source,” says Theodore de Banville, Ingres, with a cardboard under his arm like a schoolboy, gave himself up to furious anger at the door of a museum he found closed. One of his former pupils approached him, and trying to calm him down: Yes, Monsieur Ingres, the museum is closed, but what are you going to do with it? Learning to draw, replied the great man, with his naivety of stubborn conqueror; for, in fact, he had no other idea than that, and it sufficed him. Now, at that moment, Ingres was an old man covered with glory; he had produced his finest masterpieces, and to paint The Source, he still wished to learn how to draw! What a beautiful and profitable lesson for the vain fa presto of which our contemporary painting offers so many examples! Let them study, for their confusion, that adorable young girl’s body, so fresh, so chaste, so perfect, of which Charles Blanc has said it was the finest painting of the French school.

This girl, with fair hair scattered over her shoulders, stands face to face, naked, leaning against a rock, crowned with light branches; from her right-hand rounded arm she holds on her left shoulder a vase of clay whose opening, inclined towards the ground and maintained by her left hand, lets out the water which falls into the basin by filtering through her fingers . The legs of the child, a marvel of finesse and grace, are reflected in the crystal of the source.

Ingres always loved to paint women; Odalisque, the Bather, The Turkish Bath, the Golden Age are of an artist who was not insensitive to the fascinations of the flesh. “It was,” writes M. Henry Lapauze, “a worshiper of feminine beauty. He described it in inimitable traits, with a fervent pencil, but his confessions remained chaste, his transports always contained; it never falls into too sensuous materializations.”

From this affirmation The Source provides us with a striking proof. This charming and delicate body, deprived of all veil, awakens in us no other sentiment than a deep admiration for its ideal beauty; the senses remain at rest before this nudity so adorably modest.

The view of this picture permits another observation; it clearly demonstrates the injustice of the detractors of Ingres who challenge his qualities as a colorist. Is it possible to paint woman’s flesh with more warmth and truth? Besides, Ingres had, on the coloring, fixed opinions, which the most violent attacks could never shake. He was, as well as any other, better than many others, master of his pince as of his pencil. “But to compose a canvas for an effect, to choose an acute or powerful motif and to make it dominate in a symphony of tones, seemed to him a process unworthy of art. To use color as a plastic, to paint what is called full paste, with highlights, overloads, glazes, visible and lumpy touches, appeared blasphemous. Animate the painting with sensual warmth, lavish splendor of brilliant fabrics, the heavy sumptuousness of brocades, damascus, velvets, goldsmiths’ work, displaying bare and fat flesh, with too voluptuous reliefs, too fiery blood rods, folds and spots too truthful, excited his indignation and repugnance.” (Henry Lapauze) He was not less a faithful and passionate translator of nature, one might almost say a realistic. We shall certainly have occasion to examine it under this aspect in some of his magnificent portraits of the Louvre, whose place is naturally indicated in this gallery of celebrated works.

It might be said of Ingres, that if other painters were more brilliant colourists, none surpassed him for the impeccable correction of the drawing. This passionate love of form, he had of the great artists of the Renaissance and especially of Raphael. When one claims such masters, one can expect with confidence the judgment of posterity.

The Source was bequeathed to the Louvre by the Countess Duchatel.

Height: 1.65 – Width: 0.80 – Full-size figure.

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