Executed in 1806, the year in which the artist finally took up his residence at the French Academy in Rome, following his success in the 1801 Prix de Rome, it was at this pivotal period in his career that Ingres began to evolve from a more painterly style of portrait drawing, derived from his invaluable training under Jacques-Louis David, towards the manner that came to define him as perhaps, the finest portraitists of the 19th Century. This increasingly economical method of drawing, in which the artist moved away from the more traditional media of black chalk and stumping, often accompanied by the liberal application of white heightening, towards the more modern technique of graphite, is perhaps best encapsulated by two portraits that Ingres executed in 18031 and 18062 respectively, both of which depict his friend, Jean-Charles-Auguste Simon. Aside from the obvious changes in the physical appearance of the sitter one can clearly see the way in which Ingres’ move away from black chalk has immediately resulted in a more “modern” image, in which he is totally focused on the portrait and happy to indicate clothing and other features in a far more cursory fashion. This newly employed technique is also clearly evident in the present work, in which Ingres has undoubtedly captured much of the likeness and accompanying personality of the sitter in her face alone, while her dress and the chair in which she is seated are far more freely drawn, to the point where, in isolation, they would be difficult to identify.
Though the present work is signed, dated and dedicated, the process of deducing the precise location in which Ingres executed the portrait provides, perhaps unsurprisingly, as much of a challenge as the identity of the sitter herself. This is due, in part, to the fact that Ingres spent much of 1806 based in Paris prior to his departure to the Eternal City in September. Whilst the aforementioned Simon portrait can be reliably placed to Ingres’ time in Paris, due to the accompanying dedication which reads: Dessiné par son ami / Ingres avant son depart / pour Rome. 1806, the present work is considerably less clear. It does not, however, contain any evidence, either by way of an inscription,3 or the tell-tale features of a Roman vista in the background4 to suggest that it was executed in the first four months of Ingres’ arrival in Rome. The dedication to Potrelle, is also particularly revealing and may provide us with the clearest insight into the timing of this portrait. Jean-Louis Potrelle was in fact a close friend of Ingres and a fellow artist, who specialised in engraving and had himself narrowly missed out on winning the Prix de Rome in 1806. It therefore seems most plausible that the young woman portrayed was in some way related to Potrelle, and with time as well as the exciting reemergence of this drawing, the mystery behind her thus far elusive identity may well be solved.
One thing that is utterly undeniable is that this sensitively executed portrait is one of the earliest surviving examples of Ingres employing his own, innovative graphic style, which is as instantly recognisable today as it was revolutionary at the beginning of the 19th Century, and has now, through his formidable artistic legacy, come to define his masterful and eminently covetable portrait drawings.
We are very grateful to Louis-Antoine Prat for his generous assistance in the preparation of this catalogue entry, most notably the invaluable information provided with regard to Ingres’ dedication to his friend, the engraver Jean-Louis Potrelle.
1. See G. Tinterow and P. Conisbee, Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch, exh. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999, pp. 88-89, no. 21, reproduced
2. Ibid., p. 95, no. 24, reproduced
3. See for example two portraits executed by Ingres in 1806 inscribed "a Rome" and "in Roma" - H. Naef, Die Bildniszeichnungen von J.-A.-D. Ingres, Bern 1977-80, vol. IV, nos. 41 and 42.
4. See Ingres' 1807 portrait of Lucien Bonaparte - Naef, op.cit., pp. 84-85, no. 45, reproduced
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