A rare collection by “the last master of neoclassicism” is being exhibited at Zhejiang Art Museum through July 21.

The exhibition features 70 pieces of work by French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres who was fondly known as “the last master of neoclassicism” by art critics.

The collection is in several parts: Ingres’ private art collections, artworks of his contemporaries and his predecessors, Ingres’ own drawings and paintings and copies of Ingres’ works by his friends and students. It also showcases some of Ingres’ personal goods such as manuscripts and the violin he played.

“This is actually a research into Ingres,” said Quan Shanshi, a renowned Chinese painter, at the opening ceremony on June 2. “You can see how Ingres was influenced by his teacher and artists like Nicolas Poussin (a French Baroque-style painter) and Raphael, how his art tastes developed and also his impact through his followers. It is about how Ingres became Ingres.”

Born in 1780 in Montauban, France, the artist left a large part of his art legacy in his hometown museum. The Ingres Museum, in Montauban, owns more than 4,500 pieces of the Frenchman’s works. Most of the art he donated himself in 1851. He also inserted a clause in his will, upon his death in 1867, for the museum to collect the part of his work and showcase it.

His extensive collections proved that he drew inspiration from a broad array of art, from the 1st century BC Italian antefixes, 5th century Greek vases, to portraits by painters from Flanders and Spain. His unabashedly love for Raphael is also evident in several copies he did of Raphael’s works during his residence in Rome and Florence.

A copy of the self-portrait of Raphael by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
A copy of the self-portrait of Raphael by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

“Eve” was copied from Raphael’s painting on the frescoes of the Vatican Palace, at a time when Ingres was staying in Villa Medici in Rome between 1806 and 1820, where he saw Raphael’s originals for the first time.

Another piece exhibited in the show is a copy of the self-portrait of Raphael. The original piece is stored in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

He not only copied from Raphael himself but let his students replicate his work. Ingres once said he wished he had been born 300 years earlier, so that he could have been a disciple of the great Renaissance master.

Although in his lifetime Ingres saw himself as a historical painter by following the tradition of representing art in religion, history and mythology, it is his portraits that are most valued by art critics and collectors.

Florence Viguier-Dutheil, director of Ingres Museum, told Shanghai Daily that nudes and portraits were the two significant motifs found throughout Ingres’ art life.

A large part of the museum collection showcases Ingres’ sketching, with 32 pieces revealing profiles of his parents, his two younger sisters and the head of Niobe, a character from Greek mythology, which was created when he was 9.

“Compared to oil paintings, the sketches and drawings reveal more of the painter’s intentions,” said Viguier-Dutheil. “You can see clearly what he was interested in, how many of his interests were converted into productions, and how he employed colors and light to delineate gestures and movements.”

Ingres’ productions during his first residence in Rome were not received well by the French critic circle, although his portraits were popular among the British and French bourgeois living in Rome at that time.

It was not until 1924 with “The Vow of Louis XIII,” a bespoke piece made for the cathedral in Montauban, that he finally earned a place in the hierarchical French salons.

Four of Ingres’ drafts for the piece are exhibited in the show. You can see how the painter designed and prepared details of the painting in sketches, including the kneeling position of Louis XIII, the composition of the Virgin Mary and even the draperies of the angels.

Draft of “The Vow of Louis XIII”
Draft of “The Vow of Louis XIII”

Apart from being an artist himself, Ingres was also a keen art educator. Many younger artists studied at his workshop after he rose to fame.

Xu Beihong, one of the earliest Chinese modern painters, studied in France under François Flameng, who was a student of Ingres.

“Xu is a prominent painter in China, so in a way we can say Ingres’ style has long been accepted and spread out in China,” added Viguier-Dutheil.

The exhibition is part of Ingres Museum’s first tour in China. It started in December last year and has already been to Beijing and Tianjin. Hangzhou marks the end of its tour.

It also belongs to the “Western classics” series that Zhejiang Art Museum intends to carry out over the next five years. Ying Jinfei, deputy director of the museum, told Shanghai Daily that they hope to introduce more original masterpieces from the West, especially from European countries.

A portrait of the artist’s father, Jean-Marie-Joseph Ingres
A portrait of the artist’s father, Jean-Marie-Joseph Ingres

“In recent years, we have met with many enquiries from commercial organizations seeking collaboration with us. But as a public art museum, our responsibility is to select and bring real, authentic art to our audience,” said Ying.

Further lectures are being held on June 9, 23, 30 and July 15 at the museum by art history professors and researchers of Ingres from the China Academy of Art. The museum has also set up interactive zones at the site, which allows visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the cultural background and a basic knowledge on painting.

Date: Through July 21

Address: 138 Nanshan Rd

Admission: Free