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Everything goes back to Ingres

By Sebastian Smee   June 2004

A commonplace of art history is that, in times of anxiety or extreme formal experimentation, modern artists – from Degas to Seurat, Renoir to Matisse – looked for inspiration to Ingres, the great upholder of the French classical tradition. So when Matisse was flailing in the wild colours and brushy incoherence of his Fauve period, he turned to Ingres for an ordering principle. The results were the Matisse decorations of 1909-10. Renoir, resisting dissolution into the impressionist soup (derived from Ingres’s great rival, Delacroix), looked to Ingres’s odalisques when painting his late, buxom bathers. With Degas and Seurat it was…

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