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“Madame Moitessier” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres ( The National Gallery, London)

Dominique Ingres - Mme Moitessier

“Madame Moitessier” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

“Madame Moitessier” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is a portrait of Marie-Clotilde-Inès Moitessier (née de Foucauld) begun in 1844 but not completed until twelve years later. Madame Moitessier (1821–1897) was the daughter of a French civil servant who married a wealthy banker and merchant, who was a widower twice her age. In this painting, she is shown wearing abundant jewellery and dressed in an elegant silk dress with a floral pattern, which is echoed by the flowers and leaves of the gilt-framed mirrors. Madame Moitessier is framed on either side by mirrors, and her profile reflection can be seen on the mirror on the right.

Ingres, who in the 1840’s was at the peak of his career, was initially reluctant to accept this portrait commission and refused her husband’s request for a portrait of his wife. However, when Ingres met Madame Moitessier, he was struck by her beauty and agreed to produce a portrait. The painting took twelve years to complete due to many interruptions in the artist’s and subject’s lives. Work on this canvas was suspended when the death of Ingres’ wife left him unable to work for many months, and later Madame Moitessier was unavailable due to pregnancy and subsequently the death of her father. More than seven years later, Ingres began afresh, painting a different portrait of the subject showing her standing in a dark dress. The standing picture is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC and shows Madame Moitessier looking much more solemn. Ingres then returned to his first composition this seated portrait, which he completed in 1856. This seated portrait shows a smiling Madame Moitessier, compared to the standing portrait in the black dress is a much soberer portrait.

Ingres was a French Neoclassical painter who thought of himself as a painter of history and who today is highly regarded for his many portraits. Critics often found his style bizarre and archaic, his expressive distortions of form and space make him an important precursor of modern art,  and his work influenced Picasso and Matisse and other modernists.

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Madame Moitessier

    • Title:              Madame Moitessier
    • Artist:             Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
    • Created:         1856
    • Media:            Oil on canvas
    • Dimensions:  H: 120 cm (47.2 in); W: 92.1 cm (36.2 in)
    • Museum:        The National Gallery, London

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres