Thursday, 8 November 2012

Madame Moitessier by Ingres: Art through Words National Gallery London

27th October 2012

The subject of October’s Art through Words was the portrait of Madame Moitessier by Ingres.  Sara Dibb led the session assisted by Stephen Barrett.

In January, Sara had drawn a perspective tactile diagram of Paris By Night by Pissarro and repeated the idea with a tactile reproduction of the painting of Madame Moitessier.  This seemed to be a little simpler and found total appreciation with all the visually impaired visitors for whom such large scale tactile representations are a new experience.  Some, like me, are familiar with the thermoform representations which are smaller and require some familiarisation with language of the senses in the artwork.    
Tactile reproduction of Ingres's portrait of Madame Moitessier
Sara introduced the painting with the reproduction and then introduced her tactile version.  Tracking the human body is familiar enough but Sara’s tactile version neatly illustrates the odd reflection in a mirror of the sitter.  (I was beginning to get the mirror touch or even mirror neurons references as a witty remark but kept quiet.)

Ingres had taken a long time to finish this picture and had run off another portrait in between.  The sitter has made an unusual gesture with her right hand in jabbing her pointing finger into her head, thumb hidden with remaining fingers pointing downwards.  One of us suggested that Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) used this pose.  I tried to copy the gesture.  She is abslument couvert de beaucoup de bling!

Following an example of Empress Eugenie, the dress is of Lyons silk and has printed (not embroidered) patterns.  On the left there is one of those oriental fans (table tennis bats) which I noted in the paintings on show in the Impression Collection of Clark at the RA.  (  The tactile diagram allowed us to follow the detail of the picture and we were able to locate the expanded pieces with references to “landmarks”

As well as describing the picture, Sara also told us about its history and how it came into the National Gallery by Sir Kenneth Clark (Civilisation) in 1936.   There is also an interesting story about the original frame for the picture which had become separated and later reunited when on show in the National Gallery.  The National Gallery is having a photographic exhibition and a similar pose of someone in a Mary Quant outfit is positioned next to the Ingres. 

Our walk through the gallery took us past the Turner Temeraire picture which I recognised, though on the way back to the Sainsbury Wing I thought I could detect a Cuyp landscape only for Stephen to say that it was by Claude. At least I was in the right region with an Italianate landscape. 

Sara had been wearing a printed top much in the fashion of Madame Moitessier.  I had been sitting next to Sara, but being polite had not commented on it until Sara slipped it into the discussion around the picture and photograph discussion. 

Many thanks to Sara for getting this tactile diagram prepared for us and to Stephen for assisting us through the busy galleries.


There are continued possibilities to study this picture in the comfort of one’s home.  A photo has been taken of the tactile diagram of the picture with the reproduction of the Ingres portrait.  I can be noted touching the reflection of the cheek of Madame.
Reflections on the cheek of Madame Moitessier