COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
The private pleasure of Ingres’s drawings

Odalisque and Slave, 1839. Courtesy of The Morgan Library.

The Morgan Library’s Moore Curatorial Fellow Esther Bell organized a small exhibit comprising 17 of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres drawings (September 9 through November 27, 2011 for details visit: http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/exhibition.asp?id=51).

The exhibition is designed to reward the visitor with a few of the most perceptive portraits by the great French draftsman. In late Robert Rosenblum’s seminal work on Ingres one learns that “like most Renaissance and Baroque painters, Ingres thought of his drawings as only the inferior, private means to the superior, public ends of his paintings.” Be that as it may, the stunning images of his sitters that Ingres executed over the years (in the Musée Ingres alone there are some 4,000 drawings) attest to the French painter’s exceptional gifts of observation and precision, two traits that the great master insisted came only second to his brilliant work with color.

Staged within only one room at the Morgan, the show places demands on its visitors in terms of time. Don’t expect to move along the pictures hanging on the three sides of the room in less than two hours. The elaborate details of the sitters’ features and the powerful effect of their gaze will capture your attention for longer than you had planned. And while facial features are drawn in their most expressive state, the absence of details on clothing and furnishings is startling—the perfect contrast achieved by the painter who was slightly bothered by the repetitiveness of the task. Nevertheless, commissioned portraits of that type offered Ingres a good source of income and a great platform for him to prepare for his monumental works. How else would one explain the strikingly accurate, spectacularly filled in detail drawing Odalisque and Slave (1839, graphite, black and white chalk, gray and brown wash)? Here, Ingres offers a complete work to serve as a preparatory model to a later engraved version.Ingres’s fertile production implies that occasionally his drawings come up at auction (look for Old Masters sales at major auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s) as well as that one needs to familiarize oneself with the master’s body of work. The Morgan Library offers the opportunity to a private viewing of these superbly executed drawings—each one a private pleasure.

© Thomaï Serdari