"Anatomy is a dreadful science" - The French neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

29 August 1780, the French neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was born in Montauban in France.

“Anatomy is a dreadful science. If ever I had to learn anatomy, I never would have been a painter.“ (Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres)

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: "Grande Odalisque" (1814)

There is a French expression along the lines of riding one’s hobbyhorse, le Violon d’Ingres, alluding on the painter entertaining his guests and students with his inexhaustible violin playing. With somebody who emphasised on harmony like Ingres did, it must have been a bit more than just an endearing quirk. His attempts on the fiddle were, very probably, quite terrible and an ordeal for his audience. But there are other major blurs in his biography. For decades, Ingres, as one of his contemporaries once remarked, was a bit like a Greek from the age of Pericles, wandering through a wasteland of harmony, where everything held dear from the days of the ancients and the art of Raphael had exploded into a chaos of violent emotionality, light, shadow and fantasies, wondering what ever had become of truthfully depicting the harmonious serenity of nature. In fact, his realism consisted of painting odalisques with three additional vertebrae and overstretching nature into something how things ought to be and not necessarily as they really were. A Pericleian version of truth indeed.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: "Jupiter and Thetis" (1811)

It is not quite without irony that the painters the high priest of Raphaelite augustness despised with vengeance, Romantics like Delacroix and Géricault, were among the first few professionals who admired his art. They had found something in his forbidding, statuesque and icy cold serenity that others failed to recognise for decades and Ingres was forced to lead the picturesque life of a poor artist, in Paris, Rome and Florence until the late 1820s saw him rising in acceptance and becoming a respected teacher. A couple of years later, Ingres was the most popular representative of Neoclassicism and upholder of tradition and would duly been forgotten today, if not for his anatomical and perspectival magic world that influenced artists from Degas to Picasso and Barnett Newman.

One of Ingres’ most famous paintings and an accumulation of his earlier odalisques into an old gentleman’s harem fantasies, the “Turkish Bath” from 1862, created when he was 82 years old.