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Désiré François Millet
Painting on an easel in the studio of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)
Musée Ingres Bourdelle
Accession no / Inventory no requested
Daguerréotype de Désiré François Millet montrant un tableau de Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (tableau disparu ou détruit) en arrière plan le portrait de Madame Moitessier.
Vicki Goldberg, 21 September 2003,ART; Ingres's Nude May Be Lost, But Her Afterimage Lingers, The New York Times, Section 2, Page 32 of the National edition
JEAN-AUGUSTE-DOMINIQUE INGRES is justly famous for his paintings of nudes -- ''La Grande Odalisque,'' with her three extra vertebrae, say, or ''The Turkish Bath,'' with its prodigal display of sumptuous flesh. But the painting in a daguerreotype on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, starting on Tuesday, disappeared some 150 years ago. And had it not been for the invention of photography, the charming, somnolent creature in the painting, posed like one of Titian's Venuses, might have vanished forever.
This daguerreotype of Ingres's canvas, a unique image (as all daguerreotypes are), was discovered only about 10 years ago in a drawer in Ingres's desk, which is in a museum in his hometown, Montauban, France. It will be shown for the first time in the United States, along with many other treasures, in the Met's splendid exhibition, ''The Dawn of Photography: French Daguerreotypes, 1839-1853.''
Ingres (1780-1867) was evidently ambivalent about the new medium -- scholars say either that he hated it or that he (privately) admired it. Still, he commissioned daguerreotypes of some of his paintings, was reported by contemporaries to have sent some of his portrait subjects to be photographed and eventually agreed to have photographs of his art made and sold. This image, probably taken in 1852, wasn't for sale. The model for the painting was his first wife, who had slipped off her clothes and modeled for him frequently; Ingres had painted this picture of her in the 1820's.
Ingres's work veers between the most exquisite abstraction and the most exacting realism, verging on the photographic. David Hockney, in ''Secret Knowledge,'' his book on artists' use of optical aids, argues that Ingres must have used a camera lucida, a prephotographic optical device that produced an exact, if impermanent, image that an artist could trace; it was by use of another such device, the camera obscura, that a French painter named Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre found a way to preserve the image made by light passing through a lens. In the canvas seen here, Ingres painted his wife's body forthrightly, realistically, with an acceptance of fleshly deviations from the ideal that contrasts with the polished skin and elegantly sloped shoulders of Madame Moitessier, whose 1851 portrait is glimpsed behind the easel (and today hangs in the National Gallery in Washington).
Daguerre's invention, which in 1839 was the first publicly announced method of photography, was hailed and sometimes reviled for its meticulous representation of even the most minute detail before the lens; Delacroix wrote about being annoyed that photographs presented him with details that would be unbearable if all of them were visible to the unaided eye. The daguerreotype shown here exactly reproduces both Ingres's near-photographic realism and his highly refined sense of abstraction. The photographer, D. F. Millet, almost subverted the camera's realism, however, by cutting off the right and left sides of the painting, producing the odd initial impression that the nude lies in a shallow box while a painting hovers in some indeterminate space behind.
Ingres's wife died in 1849, and he remarried in 1852. This photograph was probably taken that same year, and the painting probably vanished about the same time. Ingres's second wife never posed for him without her clothes on. Was she offended by such a large image of her husband's first wife, young, naked, delectable and permanently on view? Was she shocked? The likely scenario is that she wanted the picture destroyed and her husband wanted it preserved, if only as a reproduction to hold in his hand, and for his eyes alone.