Madame Moitessier by Ingres

Madame Moitessier by Ingres (1856)

By now you will have realised that the paintings I like the most are ones that have a story behind them.  My Daily Art Display today has an intriguing tale attached to it which I will now share with you.  The painting is entitled Madame Moitessier and the artist who created this work of art was Jean-Auguste- Dominique Ingres.  This painting which was completed in 1856 is housed at the National Gallery in London.  It is the date which is interesting as Ingres initially started the painting in 1844!

Marie-Clothilde-Inès Moitessier, née de Foucauld, was the daughter of a civil servant.  Born in 1821 she married the wealthy banker, and one time importer of Cuban cigars,  Sigisbert Moitessier.  He was in his forties whilst she was just twenty-one years of age.  Two years later, her husband spoke to a friend of Ingres and asked him to speak to the artist about painting a portrait of  his new wife, Madame Montessiere.   Ingres refused the commission, as to him,  portraiture was a “low” form of art and he preferred to concentrate on “history paintings”.    However his friend Marcotte persevered with the Monsieur Moitessier’s request and finally Ingres agreed to meet the new wife.

Ingres was immediately struck and captivated by her beauty and agreed to paint her portrait.  Ingres then made his first mistake by suggesting that Moitessier should include her young daughter “la charmante Catherine” in the portrait.  If you look at preliminary sketches of this work, which can be seen at the Ingres Museum in Montauban, you can see the head of Catherine under her mother’s arm.  However by 1847 the young child had become so restless, couldn’t sit still for any lengthy period and finally rebelled against any artistic instructions and so, was  banished.

Ingres was a perfectionist.  Everything had to be just right with the work and over a period of time the clothes which Madame Montessier wore were changed to suit the artist and be of the latest fashion.  In the finished painting she wears the latest woven floral fabric with a crinoline, the stiffened petticoat, which had just come into fashion in 1855.  The lady also had little choice on what jewellery she should wear.  Ingres was the Master and told her what to wear and couched his suggestions in terms of flattery.  He was reported to have told her one day when discussing how she should adorn herself:

“……Since you are clearly beautiful all by yourself,  I am abandoning, after mature consideration, the projected grand headdress for a gala.  The portrait will be in even better taste and I fear that it would have distracted the eye too much at the expense of the head.  Same thing for the brooch at your breast;  the style is too old-fashioned and I beg you to replace it with a gold cameo.  However I am not against a long and simple chatelaine, which I could terminate with the pendant of the first one.  Please….bring on Monday your jewel chest, bracelets and the long pearl necklace……

More bad luck for the commission was to follow as in 1849 Ingres’s wife died suddenly and the artist was devastated and didn’t paint for the next seven months.  In 1851, seven years after he started the painting of the seated Madam Moitessier, little progress had been made and the husband became restless at this lack of progress.  So that year, after constant cajoling and support from his friends and the demand of the sitter and her husband,  he went back to the easel.   Ingres started another painting of Moitessier’s wife, dressed in black, this time in a standing position.  He completed this at the end of 1851 and this work can now be found in the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

After completing the standing portrait of Madame Moitessier he reverted back to the one he had begun in 1844.  The lady is sitting in a rather strange pose.  Art historians believe that the pose of the lady, hand touching cheek, captured in Ingres’s painting,  was reminiscent of the fresco Hercules and Telephus from Herculaneum  which Ingres probably saw when he was there in 1814.  It is believed that Ingres had the sitter take up this pose but had to convince her husband that it was in keeping with Classical art and it made his wife look more learned and cultured.  The husband liked this idea as he was of the nouveau riche and liked the idea that the painting may have people believe they were more akin to nobility.  It is also quite amusing to read that Madame Moitessier had gained weight during her pregnancies and had demanded of Ingres that he should re-paint her arms and make them look thinner and thus more flattering!  This painting took over twelve years to complete and there are many preliminary drawings of it in existence. 

Why did it take him so long?   I have told you of some problems he encountered during this epic and I suppose we should also remember that he was 76 years of age when he finally completed the work and age may have played a large part in the agonisingly slowness in his progress.   Still, now we look at the finished article we must admire Ingres’s work. 

By now you will have realised that the paintings I like the most are ones that have a story behind them.  My Daily Art Display today has an intriguing tale attached to it which I will now share with you.  The painting is entitled Madame Moitessier and the artist who created this work of art was Jean-Auguste- Dominique Ingres.  This painting which was completed in 1856 is housed at the National Gallery in London.  It is the date which is interesting as Ingres initially started the painting in 1844!

Marie-Clothilde-Inès Moitessier, née de Foucauld, was the daughter of a civil servant.  Born in 1821 she married the wealthy banker, and one time importer of Cuban cigars Sigisbert Moitessier.  He was in his forties whilst she was just twenty-one years of age.  Two years later, her husband spoke to a friend of Ingres and asked him to speak to the artist about painting a portrait of  his new wife, Madame Montessiere.   Ingres refused the commission as to him portraiture was a “low” form of art and he preferred to concentrate on “history paintings”.    However his friend Marcotte persevered with the Monsieur Moitessier’s request and finally Ingres agreed to meet the new wife.

Ingres was immediately struck by her beauty and agreed to paint her portrait.  Ingres then made his first mistake by suggesting that Moitessier should include her young daughter “la charmante Catherine” in the portrait.  If you look at preliminary sketches of this work, which can be seen at the Ingres Museum in Montauban, you can see the head of Catherine under her mother’s arm.  However by 1847 the young child had become so restless, couldn’t sit still for any lengthy period and finally rebelled against any artistic instructions and was  banished.

Ingres was a perfectionist.  Everything had to be just right with the work and over a period of time the clothes which Madame Montessier wore were changed to suit the artist and be of the latest fashion.  In the finished painting she wears the latest woven floral fabric with a crinoline, the stiffened petticoat, which had just come into fashion in 1855.  The lady also had little choice on what jewellery she should wear.  Ingres was the Master and told her what to wear and couched his suggestions in terms of flattery.  He was reported to have told her one day when discussing how she should adorn herself:

“……Since you are clearly beautiful all by yourself, I am abandoning, after mature consideration, the projected grand headdress for a gala.  The portrait will be in even better taste and I fear that it would have distracted the eye too much at the expense of the head.  Same thing for the brooch at your breast;  the style is too old-fashioned and I beg you to replace it with a gold cameo.  However I am not against a long and simple chatelaine, which I could terminate with the pendant of the first one.  Please….bring on Monday your jewel chest, bracelets and the long pearl necklace……

Madame Moitessier by Ingres (1851)

More bad luck for the commission was to follow as in 1849 Ingres’s wife died suddenly and the artist was devastated and didn’t paint for the next seven months.  In 1851, seven years after he started the painting of the seated Madam Moitessier little progress had been made and the husband became restless at this lack of progress.  So that year after constant cajoling and support from his friends and the demand of the sitter that he produced something, Ingres started another painting of Moitessier’s wife, dressed in black, this time in a standing position.  He completed this at the end of 1851 and this work can now be found in the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

After completing the standing portrait of Madame Moitessier he reverted back to the one he had begun in 1844.  The lady is sitting in a rather strange pose.  Art historians believe that the pose of the lady, hand touching cheek, captured in Ingres’s painting was reminiscent of the fresco Hercules and Telephus from Herculaneum and which Ingres probably saw when he was there in 1814.  It is believed that Ingres had the sitter in this pose, and he had tgo convince her husband that it was in keeping with Classical art and it made his wife look more learned and cultured.  The husband liked this idea as he was of the nouveau riche and liked the idea that the painting may have people believe they were more akin to nobility.  It is also quite amusing to read that Madame Moitessier had gained weight during her pregnancies and had demanded of Ingres that he should re-paint her arms and make them look thinner and thus more flattering!  This painting took over twelve years to complete and there are many preliminary drawings of it in existence. 

Why did it take him so long?   I have told you of some problems he encountered during this epic and I suppose we should also remember that he was 76 years of age when he finally completed the work and age may have played a large part in the agonisingly slowness in his work. Still, now we look at the finished article and must admire Ingres’s work.

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About jonathan5485

Just someone who is interested and loves art. I am neither an artist nor art historian but I am fascinated with the interpretaion and symbolism used in paintings and love to read about the life of the artists and their subjects.
This entry was posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Art History, French painters, Ingres, Portraiture, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Madame Moitessier by Ingres

  1. Jen Spearman says:

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  2. SMS says:

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  3. Just discovered your blog and will check back in from time to time. I found it while Googling “Madame Moitessier” because I have a friend who resembles her greatly, with the pale skin and plump shoulders and lovely Grecian profile, and was considering showing her the painting, but I’m afraid to because Madame Moitessier’s type is so completely unfashionable now. Her beauty is queenly, so quiet and still I can hardly imagine her smiling.

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