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Work The Turkish Bath
Department of Paintings: French painting
The Turkish Bath
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
At the end of his life, Ingres created the most erotic of all his works with this harem scene. In it he combines the figure of the nude with an oriental theme, taking as his inspiration the letters of Lady Montague (1690-1760), who recounts a visit to a women's baths in Instanbul in the early eighteenth century. Ingres has borrowed figures from some of his previous paintings for this composition full of arabesques. This late masterpiece was only revealed to the public many years after his death.
An Orient of dreams
Dozens of nude Turkish women are sitting or lying on sofas in various poses, in an Oriental interior which is arranged around a pool. Many of these bathers have just emerged from the water and are stretching themselves or dozing off; others are chatting or drinking coffee. In the background a woman is dancing, while in the foreground another, with her back toward us, is playing music on a sort of lute. The main element of eroticism in the painting focuses on two women, one of whom is caressing the breast of another sitting next to her. This picture, dating from 1862, thus combines two subjects which had been close to Ingres's heart for more than fifty years: the nude and the Orient.
The final masterpiece
It was Prince Napoleon who commissioned this harem scene from Ingres around 1848. The painting was delivered in 1859, but then returned soon afterwards because it had shocked the empress. The painter continued to rework his picture until 1863, even after he had dated it 1862. It was only finally revealed to the wider public in 1905, on the occasion of the Ingres retrospective at the Salon d'Automne, and here it excited the most avant-garde painters such as Picasso. It was the masterpiece of Ingres's later years, as audacious in its subject as it was in its style.
The triumph of the arabesque
The Turkish Bath is the outcome of Ingres's long experimentation in art and a synthesis of his drawings and paintings on the theme of the Turkish woman bathing, which he had produced since 1807. In fact, he takes figures from previous pictures, in particular The Valpinçon Bather (Musée du Louvre) in which we see a woman with her back toward us, but in the present picture she is placed in the foreground with a musical instrument. None of the nudes was created using a live model. In this composition, two main groups of figures are assembled within a deep but undefined space. The foreground is dominated by the interplay of arabesques at the expense of anatomical precision and any effect of depth. However, there is great harmony in the composition, with even the frame following the curves of the painting (Ingres chose a circular or tondo frame, as seen on certain pictures by Raphael, who was his great hero). He has also portrayed his subject in a cold, filtered light, which tones down the relief of the figures, allowing line to predominate.
Bibliography- ROSENBLUM Robert, Ingres, Paris, Cercle d'art, 1968, pp. 170-172.
- TOUSSAINT Hélène, Le Bain turc d'Ingres, catalogue d'exposition, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1971.
- JAUBERT Alain, "Le Regard captif", in Palettes, Paris, Gallimard, 1998, pp. 159-169.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique INGRES (Montauban, 1780 - Paris, 1867)
The Turkish Bath
H. 1.08 m; W. 1.10 m
Gift of the Société des Amis du Louvre, with the aid of Maurice Fenaille, 1911
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