Magazine article The Spectator

The Bride Proposed to Unseen Who Ended Up in a Turkish Bath

Magazine article The Spectator

The Bride Proposed to Unseen Who Ended Up in a Turkish Bath

Article excerpt

THE National Gallery's exhibition of portraits by Ingres is not only delightful in itself, it also enshrines a touching and instructive love story. Sensible people like Dr Johnson have often argued that marriage is such a difficult business that young people cannot be trusted to pick their lifetime partners unaided. He went so far as to say, `Marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so, if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor.' That is also the view of the Reverend Moon who, in his campaign to reduce racism in the Far East by encouraging intermarriage, last week wed 40,000 couples in the Olympic Sports Stadium in Seoul. The couples had never met before, their compatibility having been determined by the Reverend Moon and his computer. In six months' time each pair will decide whether they fit, and if so the marriage is then consummated and becomes permanent. If not, the union is dissolved with no hard feelings. But the vast majority find they like their partner, and it seems that divorce is almost unknown in marriages thus contracted.

The Ingres case was a little different. In 1813 he was a lonely artist in Rome, making a bare living and badly in need of comfort. A French official, who had just been posted to the city, introduced Ingres to his young wife and the painter fell in love with her. She said, `No, I have a husband, but I also have a cousin who looks just like me, and she needs a man. Write to her.' Ingres did so, proposing marriage. His letter, which is printed in the exhibition catalogue, is a remarkable document. He wrote: 'I am sending you a sketch of my small physique . . . I have neither fortune nor a handsome face . . . I am easily moved to anger when people argue with me and I think I am in the right. They say that my face gets all red, white and yellow . . . personally, I don't notice this at the time, only after a while when I come down with a high bilious fever. In addition, I tend to throw my money out of the window, as I never know the value of it . . . I am so inordinately sensitive that the slightest thing makes me at that moment the unhappiest man in the world.' However, he said, he had no vices and had talent and the chance to make his fortune. `Please don't be put off by all these imperfections. I hope that you will make them all disappear by bringing with you everything that makes for an excellent wife.'

The.girl, Madeleine Chapelle, sixth and youngest child of a cabinet-maker in Chalons-sur-Marne, was two years younger than Ingres, and perhaps already saw herself as an old maid at 31. Anyway, she was not at all put off by Ingres' criticism of himself, or maybe she liked his self-portrait. Six weeks after Ingres wrote to her, she arrived in Rome. One of his pupils later recalled, `Monsieur Ingres went all the way to Nero's Tomb to meet her, and there he saw the woman who was going to be his wife climbing down from a carriage. "And she has kept", Ingres added, looking at her, "all my friend's promises, and more."' They were married on 4 December 1813 in the church of San Martino ai Monti, and the marriage brought entire happiness to them both until Madeleine's death 36 years later. Their only child was stillborn, but in all other respects they made an ideal couple, and each spoke of the other with intense affection.

Their love comes out strongly and delicately in Ingres' work. Early in 1814, not long after they were married, he painted a portrait of her, which is in the exhibition. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.