Portrait of Monsieur Bertin
Portrait of Monsieur Bertin is an 1832 oil on canvas portrait by the French painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, housed in the Musée du Louvre since 1897. It depicts Louis-François Bertin, a writer, art collector, director of the pro-royalist Journal des débats, and friend and patron of the artist. Bertin was a well-known and respected member of the French upper-middle class, and in Ingres' portrait he becomes a symbol of the confident and commercially minded men of the liberal reign of Louis Philippe I.
Although Bertin was older than Ingres, the two men became close friends, with Bertin acted as a father figure to the painter. This work is one of the few commissioned portraits Ingres agreed to paint during this period, and is considered his most successful. At the time Ingres was enjoying his first success as an artist, but as a portraitist rather than history painter. This was a major source of frustration to him, he believed history painting to be more important and noble than mere portraiture of contemporaries. The painting brought him international repute but little personal satisfaction. As with most of Ingres' portraits, the work had a prolonged, tortured genesis: it took the artist years to settle on a pose for Bertin that he found satisfactory.
In its unflinching realism and depiction of the effects of aging, the final composition draws influence from Flemish painting, especially from the early portraits of Jan van Eyck. Although Bertin is shown as a restless force of nature, his bulk spilling out of the canvas, Ingres records without pity the impact of time on his appearance, his wrinkles, his thinning hair. The portrait became an instant and enduring critical and popular success. It was highly praised when exhibited at the Salon in 1833, and has influenced both academic painters, such as Léon Bonnat, and modernist artists like Edgar Degas and Pablo Picasso. Today it is regarded as Ingres' finest male portrait, and one of his most important and influential paintings.
From early in Ingres' career, the Romantic movement threatened the neoclassical approach to art, which had developed in part from the way France then saw herself as the cultural center of Europe, a successor to Rome. Painting became freer and more expressive, more concerned with colour than line or form, and more focused on artistic style than subject matter. Paintings based on major classical themes, painstakingly built up from highly described small details, fell out of fashion, replaced by regard for the holistic form of the work, and contemporary rather than historical settings. Ingres resisted this move away from academic art, and wrote, "The history painter shows the species in general; while the portrait painter represents only the specific individual—a model often ordinary and full of shortcomings."
As a struggling young artist, however, Ingres' income depended on commissioned portraits, a genre he despised as lacking the grandeur of classical subject matter and which became a lifelong burden. He agreed to commissioned portraits, which brought him renown. With his early financial difficulties behind him, by the 1830s though by then acclaimed as a portraitist and much sought-after by patrons, he was accepting few commissions, preferring to work on historical subject matter. He wrote in 1847, "Damned portraits, they are so difficult to do that they prevent me getting on with greater things that I could do more quickly".
With the Bertin commission, Ingres was sufficiently moved by the subject's strong personality to accept the undertaking. Bertin, who was 66 in 1832, probably came into contact with Ingres via his son Édouard Bertin, a student of the painter from 1827 or the art critic on the Journal, Ingres's friend Étienne-Jean Delécluze. He was a leader of the French upper class and a supporter of Louis-Philippe. Backed by the Bourbon Restoration, Bertin directed the Moniteur until 1823, when the Journal des débats became the recognised organ of the liberal-constitutional opposition after he had come to criticize absolutism. Bertin gave his support, however, to the July Monarchy after 1830.
The painting is signed, in capital text, J.Ingres Pinxit 1832 at top left, with L.F. Bertin, also in capitals, inscribed at top right.
Bertin is shown in three-quarter profile against a gold–brown background lit from his right. He is seated in a chair, the arms of which reflect light from the upper left of the canvas. His fingers are spread on his knees and his hair is grey or nearly white. His massive bulk is stuffed into a tight black jacket, black trousers and brown satin waistcoat, with a white shirt and cravat showing at his open neck. He wears a gold watch and has a pair of glasses in his right pocket. In the view of art critic Robert Rosenblum, his "nearly ferocious presence" is accentuated by the apparently constrained space he occupies. His chair and clothes appear almost too small to contain him. His coiled, stubby fingers rest on his thighs and barely protrude from the sleeves of his jacket, while his neck cannot be seen above his narrow starched white collar. The Greek meander pattern at the bottom of the wall seems unusually close to the picture plane, confining him further. The wall is painted in an abstract gold, which according to critic Robert Lubar adds to the sense of a monumental portrait of a modern icon.
Bertin leans slightly forward. His manner is imposing and he confronts the viewer with a hard, knowing and ironic stare. He appears about to speak, his facial expression seemingly etched with the certainty of the argument he is about to put forward. Perhaps influenced by Poussin's Self-Portrait with Allegory of Painting (1650), Ingres has minutely detailed the veins and wrinkles of Bertin's face.
The painting is highly symmetrical, and divides horizontally. The most obvious marker of symmetry is his mouth, which turns downwards at the left and upwards at the right. This break in expression is intended to show the duality of his personality: on the one hand a hard-nosed businessman, on the other a liberal patron of the arts. His heavily lidded eyes are circled by the oppositely curled rounded twists of his white collar, and the twists of his hair, eyebrows and eyelids.
Ingres later added the reflection of the window seen on the rim of Bertin's chair. It is a barely discernible detail, but in its reduced size attempts to supply more pictorial depth than such devices normally strive for. It has been identified as a direct reference to Raphael's Portrait of Pope Leo X (c. 1519), in which a window is reflected in the gilded pommel of the pope's chair.
The painting is rendered almost exclusively in blacks, grays and browns, with the exceptions of the white collar and sleeves, a single patch of sharp red in the seat cushion, and the reddish light falling on the leather of the chair. In 19th-century art and fashion, colour was associated with femininity and emotion; male portraiture tended towards muted shades and monochromatic contrasts. Female portraits, and especially those by Ingres, tend to show the sitter in a relaxed pose, dressed in and surrounded by splendour. By convention, a female portrait was for men to gaze upon: "without moral mystery, it awaits, like a white page, until the sensibility of a man inscribes his dream upon it. It is a permanent spectacle, open, like a landscape to admiration." The sitter in Ingres' Baronne de Rothschild (1848) looks out at the viewer with almost the same directness as Bertin, but the image is softened by the attractiveness of the Baronne's dress and her relaxed pose. Bertin is upright and alert, the subdued colours bringing the viewer to full concentration on his face and character, the "epitome of modern masculinity."
Preparation and execution
Ingres was self-demanding in all his artistic endeavours, regardless of his opinion on their genre's worth. Generally consumed with self-doubt, his portraits often took several years to complete, with large gaps of tortured inactivity between sittings. He put a great deal of thought and effort into finding a pose for Bertin that would best convey both the sitter's age and restless energy. Ingres became frustrated by his inability to do so, to the extent that on a number of occasions he broke down in tears in the studio. Bertin remembered, "I would spend my time in consoling him: 'my dear Ingres, don't bother about me; and above all don't torment yourself like that. You want to start my portrait over again? Take your own time for it. You will never tire me, and just as long as you want me to come, I am at your orders.'"
A preparatory study shows Bertin standing with his hand leaning on a table in an almost Napoleonic pose. This was likely an attempt to show how the ruling classes of France were now the members of the business class and bourgeoisie. Eventually the artist noticed a pose his friend, Eugène Emmanuel Amaury Duval, had taken on while seated outside a café. Although his account differs from Ingres', Amaury Duval remembered, "One day Ingres was dining here...chatting to a friend, I was, it appears in the pose of the portrait." According to Bertin, on their next encounter Ingres "came close and speaking almost in my ear said: 'Come sit tomorrow, your portrait is done.'" The final work was completed within a month.
In this new pose the political message becomes more subtle, as Ingres reverses the role of the two men as artist and sitter. Ingres becomes the cool, detached observer, while Bertin, usually the calm and reasoned—almost motherly—patron of the arts, is shown restless and impatient, a mirror of Ingres's irritation at spending time on portraiture when he could be exploring classical themes.
Reception and influence
Portrait of Monsieur Bertin was first exhibited at the 1833 Salon alongside his 1807 Portrait of Mme Devauçay. It met with universal praise, and became his most successful artwork to that point. It sealed his reputation as a portraitist; then as today it is considered his greatest male portrait. Ingres himself said "Since my portraits of Bertin and Molé, everybody wants portraits. There are six that I've turned down, or am avoiding, because I can't stand them". One contemporary critic compared the portrait to the work of German Balthasar Denner (1685–1749), a realist painter heavily influence by Jan van Eyck's forensic attention to detail. Denner, in the words of Ingres scholar Robert Rosenblum, "specialised in recording every last line on the faces of aged men and women, and even reflections of windows in their eyes." Another wrote "It is impossible to take truthfulness any further...This is a portrait that walks and talks."
The work's almost photographic realism gained a lot of attention when it was first exhibited, both positive and negative. Some saw it as an affront to Romanticism, while others saw its debt to the Flemish attention to detail served not only to show an acute likeness, but in its small highly described details builds a psychological profile of the sitter. Art historian Geraldine Pelles sees Bertin as "at once intense, suspicious, and aggressive". She notes that there is a certain amount of projection of the artist's own personality at play, and recalls Théophile Silvestre's description of Ingres; "There he was squarely seated in an armchair, motionless as an Egyptian god carved of granite, his hands stretched wide over parallel knees, his torso stiff, his head haughty".
Due to a changing political climate and an intellectual move away from generally literal academic art, Ingres' portrait came to represent the old guard for the following generation of artists. Its overwhelming masculinity, conveyed through the full frontal pose, sobriety, and close attention to the details of the sitter's face, skin and hair are in marked contrast to the then conventional portrayal of women, exemplified by Ingres' portrait of Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière. At the time, the newer guard of French portraits of women tended towards dreamy, soft focus and corporeal depictions.
Bertin commissioned and acquired his portrait in 1832, and bequeathed it to his daughter Louise on his death. She passed it to her niece Marie, who married Jules Bapst, also director of the Journal. Their niece Cécile Bapst was its last private owner. Cécile sold it to the Musée du Louvre in 1897, where still it hangs on permanent display.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Portrait of Madame de Senonnes, 1814. In her relaxed pose and sumptuous surroundings, the sitter of Ingres' 1814 Portrait of Madame de Senonnes has been described as "to the feminine what the Louvre's Bertin is to the masculine."
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- Louis-François Bertin Musée du Louvre