From Ingres to Delacroix -portrait of Miss Cindy Graycar

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867) and Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863) were the two giants of French painting in the first half of the nineteen century. I have both studied and admired their work intently and this piece was done in imitation of these artistic rivals.

In nineteen century painting, Ingres was considerered the foremost exponent of Neoclassicism (sometimes rendered as Neo-Classicism or Neo-classicism), the name given to quite distinct movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw upon Western classical art and culture (usually that of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome).

Ingres’ work is notable for the perfection of his modelled figures and for the virtuosity of his portraits. His often-quoted conviction was “drawing is the truth of art”. He believed colour to be no more than an accessory to drawing, explaining: “Drawing is not just reproducing contours, it is not just the line; drawing is also the expression, the inner form, the composition, the modelling. Therefore his art preferred restricted colours only faintly modelled in light by half tones.

The antithesis to Neoclassicism was Romanticism and Delacroix was the most important of the French Romantic painters. The Romantic Movement (which drew from the Italian Renaissance) stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience as opposed to Neoclassicism’s ideals of achieving perfection through the careful reasoning and re-evaluation of the classics.

Delacroix's use of expressive brushstrokes (an anathema to Ingres who abhorred visible brushstrokes) and his study of the optical effects of colour, profoundly influence the work of the Impressionists. His art emphasised colour and movement to capture drama and emotion as opposed to the Neo-classicists which sought aesthetic perfection through the clarity of outline and carefully modelled form.

Odalisque with a slave -1842. Ingres' ideal of classical perfection through the exquisite modelling of form, restricted colouring and the absence of distracting visible brushstrokes. A Death of Sardanapalus -1827. Delacroix' strong colouring and shifting light, heavy brushstroke and bold movement to achieve emotional drama and spectacle.

I was revisiting some of these artist’s masterpieces during the time my friend Cindy Graycar returned from her trip to Egypt. Cindy and I both served at the board of the Cleveland Public Theatre were I was in the middle of my Gordon Square mural (see ‘current work’ -2001-2004 “The Gordon Square Theatre Murals”). We both had a passion for art and travelling and Cindy had travelled most of the world while vacationing from her job at American Greetings Corporation.

Over coffee one beautiful sunny summer afternoon, Cindy regaled me with stories of her Egyptian trip with stops at all the most renowned archaeological sites. A die-hard romantic (she loves romance novels), she expressed nostalgia for the long-gone days of exotic travels along the Nile. On previous occasions we had talked about doing her portrait, so I suggested that we do a “Romantic painting” of her with an Egyptian setting.

She loved the idea and, after posing for reference photographs, I set out to make a small oil painting of Cindy in an “Orientalised” setting. I immersed myself in the world of nineteen-century Egypt during the period that saw the birth of modern archaeology. I studied period postcards of nineteen-century Egypt and recreated a glimpse of the Pyramids for the background of the composition -a panoramic view seen through parted curtains.

Then I painted Cindy in the foreground, lying on a Turkish bed, comfortably resting on cushions, leisurely studying a book. She is dressed in the costume of an odalisque, a Tambur (Ottoman mandolin) and a fan next to her (it is warm); food and accoutrements within easy reach. Lighted candles suggest she is ready for an evening of quite relaxation as the rays of setting sun shine on the pyramids.

I posed Cindy starring right at the viewer, a suggestive smile making him (or her) a welcomed voyeur into her private world –a forbidden world. She is an odalisque, a girl of the Harem, the enclosed quarters of the Turkish Ottoman Empire household forbidden to men. But an odalisque was not a concubine of the harem (though she could become one) but rather a virgin female slave, or lowly chambermaid, that had exceptional beauty or talents in dancing or singing, and would be trained as a possible concubine to the Sultan.

I incorporated all this in the painting. And, I also included a final commentary. If one where to turn the painting upside down and look at the page of the book she is contemplating, you might perceive a page of the Kama Sutra, the ancient India book of love that had been translated into English by the Victorian adventurer, scholar and linguist Sir Richard Burton.

In making this painting I combined both Ingres’ and Delacroix styles. I used the bold colouring, accentuated lighting, movement and dramatic flair of Delacroix, but I also used the “brushless” modelling and careful outlined composition of Ingres. This was a fun painting to do and several ladies have written to me about it (some wanted a copy of the image). I guess we all have a touch of the exotic and the romantic in us and this is the attraction. But as an artist I simply enjoy the drama and the sensual aspect of the piece, which I find more interesting and exciting than simply painting nudes.


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