Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867) was one of France’s great Neoclassical painters, renowned for his portraiture. He studied at Paris’s École des Beaux-Artes, where he won the Grand Prix de Rome. Ingres specialized in historical subject matter, which earned him the enmity of art critics who felt his work betrayed more modern ideals. Due in part to this stress, Ingres relocated from Paris to Rome. With rising and falling fortunes, Ingres would continually move between the two cities for the duration of his career.
Grande Odalisque, an 1814 work commissioned by Napoleon’s sister, depicts a concubine in repose. It is with this painting that Ingres’s style shifts slightly from Neoclassical to Romantic. Note the lady’s incredibly unrealistic proportions, especially the elongation in her spine. Such distortion is intentional, meant to emphasize the subject’s femininity. The concubine’s steady gaze grants her an autonomy unusual in its day. While these aspects may be easily appreciated today, they provoked great controversy in Ingres’s lifetime.
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