Picasso and Ingres face to face at the Norton Simon Museum

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Picasso and Ingres face to face at the Norton Simon Museum
Madame Moitessier, 1856, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867), oil on canvas. © The National Gallery, London.

PASADENA, CALIF.- The Norton Simon Museum has begun the presentation of Picasso Ingres: Face to Face, an exhibition that brings together two extraordinary, interrelated paintings for the first time: Pablo Picasso’s Woman with a Book (1932) and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Madame Moitessier (1856). A partnership between the Norton Simon Museum and the National Gallery, London, this exhibition explores Picasso’s long-standing fascination with Ingres and the generative process that resulted from his confrontation with a celebrated work of art. It is on view at the Norton Simon Museum through January 30, 2023, following its presentation at the National Gallery from June 3 to October 9, 2022.

Commissioned in 1844, Madame Moitessier is one of Ingres’s most ambitious and challenging works. It depicts Marie-Clotilde-Inès Moitessier, the wife of a wealthy merchant, resplendent in an armchair and surrounded by the luxurious trappings of her grand salon. Though Ingres avoided portraiture at this stage in his career (preferring the intellectual challenge of history painting), he was purportedly convinced to paint Inès Moitessier after being “struck by her beauty” in person. Finally completed in 1856, Madame Moitessier was immediately recognized as one of Ingres’s greatest achievements, a complex and captivating likeness that balances the sitter’s imperious pose with an illogically angled reflection in the mirror behind her that appears to defy the rules of optics altogether.

Ingres’s propensity to bend naturalistic representation appealed to many modernists, most notably Picasso, who looked to him for inspiration throughout the first three decades of his career. Though he may have known Madame Moitessier in reproduction, Picasso saw the painting in person for the first time at a major retrospective dedicated to the French artist in 1921, and he never forgot it. Eleven years later, while engrossed in a series of works that depict his young lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso painted Woman with a Book, one of the most direct homages to Ingres that he had made to date. The painting depicts Walter reprising Moitessier’s iconic pose, but Picasso transformed and amplified his source, brightening and abstracting the palette and heightening the sitter’s eroticism. Even Moitessier’s famously incongruent reflection gains an extra dimension here, as the androgynous profile in the gold-framed mirror alludes to Walter and to the artist himself—a ghostly voyeur on the scene.

Madame Moitessier was acquired by the National Gallery, London, in March of 1936, coincidentally the very same month that Woman with a Book was first exhibited in Paris (it joined the Simon collections in 1960). Now, 101 years after Picasso’s initial encounter with Madame Moitessier, audiences will at last have the opportunity to view these two masterpieces side by side. The exhibition also marks the first time Madame Moitessier has traveled to the West Coast, and more than twenty years since its last visit to the United States.

Picasso Ingres: Face to Face is a collaboration between the Norton Simon Museum and the National Gallery, London. it is on view in the Museum’s 19th-century art through January 30, 2023.

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