The National Gallery in London is currently holding a little reunion between Pablo Picasso’s Woman With a Book (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena) and its original inspiration, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ beloved portrait of Madame Moitessier (National Gallery).
Ingres’ portrait was commissioned in 1844 to celebrate the marriage two years earlier of Marie Clotilde-Inès de Foucauld to the wealthy merchant, Sigisbert Moitessier. It took him 12 years to paint it, following many circumstantial delays.
Picasso first saw the painting at the Chambre Syndicale de la Curiosité et des Beaux-Arts, Paris, in their 1921 retrospective of Ingres’ works, the first time the portrait had been on public display since its completion in 1856. 11 years later, Picasso made his own version using Marie-Thérèse Walter as his model.
Picasso’s active engagement with the Old Masters is a fascinating theme in the development of his artistic style. In addition to Ingres, he also made serial reinterpretations of works by Velázquez, El Greco, Goya, Delacroix, Rembrandt, and Raphael.
These variations after the Old Masters was Picasso’s way of challenging them and establishing his place in art history. Additionally, Picasso’s modernisation of Old Master works could be seen as a bridge between traditional and modern aesthetics and popular tastes, tying back together a sort of broken continuity within the history of art.
By re-inventing the art of the past, he is keeping those works alive in the present.
Picasso Ingres: Face to Face runs until 9 October 2022 at the National Gallery, London, www.nationalgallery.org.uk