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La Belle Zélie

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

(1780 - 1867) | 870.1.1

Date : 1806 | Medium : Oil on canvas

The "subtle hint of vulgarity" (V. Pomarède) in this portrait probably earned it the subsequent nickname of La Belle Zélie, after a song popular in painters’ studios at the time of David. This is a youthful work by Ingres, a pupil of David’s who would rapidly become one of the leading painters of the time, highly sought after as a portraitist and for large allegorical or historical works. He also became the director of the French Academy in Rome.   

The three-quarters head-and-shoulders figure, whose face is turned towards us, stands out in strong colours (black, red and brown) against a background of blue and white sky, which accentuates the silhouette and enhances the drawing, in the manner of Quattrocento Florentine portraits. The subject, long identified wrongly as Madame Aymon, is young, with a delightful sensuality full of curves and curls. The beautiful oval of the face above its deep décolleté is set off harmoniously by details of the pearl necklace and its clasp, the kiss curls, the slanting comb, the round pupils, full mouth, the hint of one breast in the curvaceous bosom and the slightly goitrous elongation of the neck. Ingres is considered one of the forerunners of modern painting because of his expressive distortions of pose and anatomy.