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A respecter of tradition

Flattering portraits of critics are rare in the history of art. One of the finest is Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' studied drawing of Etienne-Jean Delecluze, longtime art and music critic of the Parisian Journal des Debats. Ingres and Delecluze first met as pupils in the studio of Jacques-Louis David, premier painter in France at the turn of the nineteenth century. Delecluze later gave up painting for writing about the arts, while Ingres won the early recognition of the Prix de Rome and went off to continue his studies in Italy.

For different reasons, both men found themselves defending the aesthetic ideal of a Renaissance-inspired classicism against the Romantic energy of pictorial style developing in the work of Delacroix, Gericault, and other contemporaries. In 1823, Delecluze visited Ingres in Italy and they looked together at the frescoes of Andrea del Sarto in Florence. The critic seized upon del Sarto as exemplar of the grace and strength of figuration he thought was needed to reform nineteenth-century French art. Ingres took to heart del Sarto's aesthetic and Delecluze's enthusiasm for it, and when he returned to Paris a year later willingly found himself cast as the official proponent of ''classical'' -- which quickly came to mean academic -- style in painting.

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At a low point in his career, Ingres had grudgingly resorted to making portrait drawings of French officials and other prosperous tourists visiting Italy after the fall of the Napoleonic empire. The turn of political events was such that the fortunes of contemporary France could no longer be symbolized by the visions of ancient grandeur and nobility that Ingres wanted to paint, though this situation was to change again during his career. None of Ingres' disdain for the portrait drawings registers in them, unless we choose to see it in his flattery of the sitter. The portrait drawing of Delecluze, done when Ingres was at the height of renown, is flattering in a sense different from that of the society portraits. Here, we feel that the artist regarded the veracity, rather than the facility, of his graphic style as his tribute to the sitter. Delecluze appears as a man comfortable with himself, with his convictions, and with the artist. The realism of the drawing seems centered on the subject's eyes, as if Ingres wanted us to see Delecluze's intelligence emanating from them. The very stable composition of the image conforms to classicist aesthetic principles while suggesting the critic's eminence as their defender. (The ancillary still life of Delecluze's published books at the right reminds us of his authority.) The lucid style of the drawing conveys the sympathy between artist and sitter without idealizing it. This is a mature work that has maturity (and thus contemporaneity) as a theme.

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