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Picabia, obsessed with Ingres, at the Ingres Bourdelle Museum, in Montauban
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Picabia, obsessed with Ingres, at the Ingres Bourdelle Museum, in Montauban

Apart from a certain overweight past fifty, nothing seems to justify bringing Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) closer to Francis Picabia (1879-1953). On the one hand, that which seems to embody to the highest degree a serious, orderly and respectable conception of drawing and painting; on the other, a troublemaker, a specialist in sacrilege and derision. Bringing them together in an exhibition would therefore make little sense.

Picabia overwhelms the cult of French classicism with his visual sarcasm

However, the Ingres Bourdelle Museum in Montauban, a temple dedicated to the glory of the first, who was born in this city, and the repository of the largest collection of his drawings, receives the second and places them opposite each other in the same rooms. And broadly: dozens of works by each, a few illustrious paintings, The Virgin Adoring the Host of one, animal trainer on the other, and a swarm of studies, sketches, projects completed or not, printed and photographic documents. Work methodically executed, then, à la Ingres rather than Picabia, for a clearly laid out and scholarly exhibition and which is the first to take a close interest in the relationship between the two works.

His purpose: to establish that Picabia uses Ingres as in a department store of motifs, takes up and copies many of them, modifies them and combines them according to circumstances and his needs. For this, he uses reproductions of 120 drawings by Ingres compiled by his former classmate at the Villa Medici, Jacques-Edouard Gatteaux (1788-1881). The first edition, in two volumes, appeared in 1873. A reissue was published in 1921, the one used by Picabia. And so it was between 1921, which was also the year of an exhibition in honor of Ingres in Paris, and 1924 that Picabia sourced the figures in these albums. Layers and stencils facilitate and speed up operations.

Bad taste

These affect painting and drawing in very unequal quantities: they are the source of a very small number of paintings and a considerable number of cover projects for journals Literature and 391, the main organs of the group of poets and artists who, at these dates, were no longer quite dada and were not yet surrealists: Tristan Tzara, André Breton, Benjamin Péret or Paul Eluard. For tables, the list is therefore brief: The vine leaf (1922), which makes a strong allusion to Oedipus explains the riddle of the Sphinx, of 1808; The Spanish Night (1922), which owes much to the standing female nudes seen from the front by Ingres, whose different versions of The source and their preparatory sketches, and animal trainer (1923), which owes less to Ingres specifically than to neoclassicism and antiquity in general.

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