The liberal middle class
The inevitable reaction to the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars led to the attempt to restore some semblance of the absolutist past. Whether in the revived monarchies of France and Spain, the rigid censorship of Austria, or conservative government in Britain, there was a desire to stamp out the ideas of the recent past. If this reaction had a hollow ring to it in face of the observable realities of social change, so too did some of the conventions of portraiture.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Louis-François Bertin, 1832. Oil on canvas, 160 x 95.
Louis-François Bertin was the editor of the Journal des dèbats, a periodical which had attacked both the Empire and the conservative governments of the restored Bourbon monarchy. As the voice of the liberal middle class, Bertin’s influence was stronger than ever following the accession of Louis-Philippe, whose policies he had championed before the 1830 Revolution.
Faced with a man of such power and authority, Ingres had great difficulty in finding a solution to the painting, and preparatory drawings reveal the artist trying several different poses. Frustrated by this indecision, Ingres burst into tears and was comforted by Bertin, whose gesture of sympathy and understanding removed the painter’s psychological block.
Compressed as his figure is into a shallow space, it’s the force of the man that immediately strikes us, his bulk hemmed in by the curve of the chair, the pleats of the waistcoat barely restraining the body beneath. His elbows are raised, so that the claw-like hands rest on his thighs with a gesture of controlled energy. The intensely observed details and the play of light and shade mould the character of the face from the severity of the mouth to the kindness suggested by the eyes, the tousled hair the expression of a man confident in his inner being, who needs no external sign of his status or profession.
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This text is abridged from the Royal Academy Education Department publication
Citizens And Kings: An Introduction to the Exhibition (0.8 MB)