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Ingres Rediscovered

ISSUE:  Spring 1940

Ingres. By Walter Pach. New York: Harper and Brothers. $6.00.

Walter Pach has rendered a great service in bringing out his “Ingres,” the first complete book on this painter in English. His aim has been threefold: to write a life of Ingres, to assemble his opinions on art, and finally to evaluate his importance and influence in our time. Mr. Pach is peculiarly fitted both by training and temperament to become the interpreter of Ingres to the English-speaking world. In addition to his own accomplishments as a painter, which give him an insight into the point of view of a fellow-artist, as a writer on the masters of modern art, and as a thorough student of Ingres’ period as shown in his work on Ingres’ great rival, Delacroix, he has even further temperamental qualifications. Mr. Pach, like Ingres himself, has had a life-long and passionate concern with art; for Mr. Pach, as it was for Ingres, art has been the most important thing in the world. There is similarity also in their passionate convictions about good and bad art, and one suspects that Ingres would have read “Ananias” with more than casual interest, had he been alive today. Furthermore, Mr. Pach, a veteran of many art controversies, has played a valiant part in the defense of so-called modern art, during those stirring years when it was hooted at as destructive and revolutionary, by constantly emphasizing the continuity of the tradition of art. Therefore he can write with sympathy and understanding of the career of an artist who once was vilified as a “Gothic” and who lived to vindicate triumphantly the classical tradition.

The life of Ingres fortunately has been well documented both in his correspondence and in the recollections of his pupils and contemporaries. With this source material Mr. Pach has built up an engaging and highly sympathetic picture of Ingres’ life and character. There are times when the portrait does not quite come to life. Mr. Pach has, perhaps deliberately, played down the contradictions and peculiarities of his subject. He sometimes blurs the sharp racy lines with too heavy an application of apology. One misses, too„ some of those enchanting and revealing anecdotes recounted by Jules Laurens and Rioux de Maillou. On the whole, however, the author presents a balanced picture with considerable criticism of his own.

The middle section of the book is devoted to a collection of Ingres’ recorded words, opinions, and letters, arranged under such headings as “Art and the Beautiful,” “Taste and Criticism,” “Drawing,” “Study of the Antique,” and “Music and Musicians.” Mr. Pach has assembled and translated the most important of these, and it is very convenient to have them in accessible form. If a few of them sound slightly gushy or sententious, the fault is not the translator’s. They sound better in the original French, but then rhetoric is always more bearable in a foreign tongue.

In the final section Mr. Pach presents a critical appraisal of Ingres for our time. He devotes chapters to Ingres the revolutionist and the classicist, reaching his conclusion that Ingres was at his best in some form of realism, a particularly European tradition. He points out that his work, rather than his theories, is important, and traces its influence on such artists as Chasseriau, Degas, Puvis de Chavannes, Manet, Renoir, Seurat, Picasso, and other moderns. Ingres was strong meat for little men, and the effect of his theory and teaching was in the main a sterile form of academicism. The keynote of Ingres might be said to be passion. It explained his character and lack of humor. In his work he was passionate both in his restraint and in his quest for perfection. His passion led him to carry his theories to ridiculous limits in certain works, but when this same passion was channeled in the framework of realism, he produced veritable masterpieces, such as the great drawings, portraits, and kindred subjects.

Mr. Pach writes chiefly for his peers; he is too richly discursive, too sophisticated in matters of art to speak com-pellingly to the layman. On a master such as Ingres Walter Pach writes con amove. This book, though it never may be vastly popular, is the best thing he has written.


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