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A Harvard collection at the National Gallery.

THE latest exhibition at the National Gallery is called A Private Passion: Harvard's Winthrop Collection, although one would not readily call the collector, Grenville Winthrop (1864-1943) passionate. A rich Manhattan lawyer, introverted and austere, he retired early to live on wealth inherited from his ancestors, who stemmed from the first Governor of Massachusetts. Like many of his eminent forefathers, as a young man he attended Harvard University, a venerable but innovatory institution, which offered one of the earliest courses in the History of Art. Captivated by that course, he formed an interest in nineteenth-century pictures which would sweeten his future years of loneliness.

The early loss of his wife left him to bring up his daughters, whom he kept in a state of puritan, vegetarian near-purdah that they escaped as soon as they could. They both eloped on the same day, one with his gardener and the other with his electrician. After that, since he did not like travel, he shared his seclusion only with his pictures, his gardenful of peacocks and pheasants, and rare visiting academics and art-dealers. The least friendly display of his wealth was to snap up a portrait of the Abbe Sieyes by Jacques-Louis David by outbidding Kenneth Clark, who was negotiating its purchase for the National Gallery in London. No popularist, Winthrop left his collection to Harvard University rather than to the Metropolitan Museum, since at Harvard it would be seen mainly by well-educated youths: perhaps his surrogate sons.

His proviso that his pictures should never be lent was fortunately legally flawed, and now for a while part of the collection is at the National Gallery. The loan exhibition includes none of Winthrop's Italian Primitives, but we can hardly complain when we are given access to four finished paintings by Ingres (as well as 26 sketches, studies and drawings) and three by Moreau (plus his intricately finished watercolour, The Sirens). Add to that two fine pictures by Burne-Jones and a scatter of sketches by his Pre-Raphaelite predecessors and himself; a small sample of Blake's biblical watercolours; and a few dextrous original drawings, which have often been reproduced, by Beardsley. Winthrop's assemblage of works by Ingres, the largest outside France, is in itself a good reason to visit the exhibition.

At one time Ingres vaguely planned several paintings of events in the life of his hero Raphael. Over time the project dwindled to just two events, although Ingres devised variations of each painting. Raphael and la Fornarina depicts the legend of Raphael's conquest of his model, the fornarina, or baker's daughter, whilst painting frescoes in the Vatican. In fact, the deminude portrait, La Fornarina (Gallery Borghese, Rome) was almost certainly painted by Raphael's pupil, Giulio Romano.

In each version the libertine Raphael has pulled her down from her dias and placed her on his red-hosed knees, but even with his arms around her, distracted between Nature and Art he glances, crayon in hand, at the underdrawing on his canvas. Raphael's face is based on the self-portraits in the Uffizi Gallery and the Vatican fresco of The School of Athens. Raphael and the baker's daughter have both chosen hair parted in the exact centre, as in most of Ingres's female portraits.

The Harvard version is a delectable glossy arrangement of red, lemon and rose (including rosy complexions) on predominant jet. A half-open curtain reveals the top floor of the Vatican as it was before Michelangelo reconstructed it. Raphael's Madonna with the Chair, supposedly modelled upon the baker's daughter, is propped against a wall. The baker's daughter herself coyly draws up her lowered robe, as if aware of the admirers of the picture, at whom she directly looks. Infatuated with Raphael in the version of sixteen years later (Columbus Gallery, Ohio) the softer model is more ardent as she straddles Raphael's leg and presses him to her bare bosom. Although he embraces her, he is still absorbed in his inner vision as he openly gazes, crayon still in hand, at the blank canvas.

'My love for Raphael', Ingres recorded in his Notes on Art, 'does not mean I ape him': certainly not in his Odalisques, although odalisques were never painted in so Attic a style as by Ingres. Even in his maturity he kept his hand in by copying the details on Greek vases, apart from resketching his own finished paintings. He disdained the contemporary craze for the Islamic world, and the seraglios, souks, camels and bloodthirsty desert fights in the art of Delacroix, Gerome and Chasseriau (the pupil who deserted him for his enemy Delacroix and then spoke ill of his old tutor). Ingres's Bain Turc was inspired, not by Napoleonic North Africa, but by a passage in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's eighteenth-century letters from Constantinople. His odalisque in the Winthrop Collection, Odalisque with a Lutenist, anticipates his Antiope, perhaps in defiance of Baudelaire, who repeatedly and pedantically censured Ingre's command of anatomy. Baudelaire was unwilling to grant Ingres the licence he allows, indeed postulates, for other painters: 'Here we find delicate faces and shoulders of sparse elegance connected with arms too robust, too plump with Raphaelesque fullness'. Baudelaire also complains of Antiope's overstretched torso. I myself know an admirer of Matisse and Picasso who finds fault with the elongated spines of Ingres's nudes. In the Winthrop Collection one finds studies from life for Angelica in Rogero and Angelica, irreproachably exact and more anatomically explicit than in the finished versions. Ingres deliberately changed and stylised his preparatory sketches to suit the rhythmic design of the final composition, as can be seen by comparing the studies with the small version of Rogero and Angelica not far away in the National Gallery's permanent collection.

Some prurient feminist critics, ignorant of academic life-classes, have called these studies erotic, a laughable term to use of Ingres. Following the practice of Raphael, he sketched each subject with naked models to establish the exact drape of the clothes in the finished pictures, even when he painted portraits of ladies of fashion. His master, David, had on occasions posed bones in the attitudes of his nudes. The Winthrop Collection includes studies for Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus, in which the Emperor, his sister Octavia and his wife Livia are totally unclad. As late as the 1890s, the gifted painter Mrs Evelyn de Morgan was taught this standard method of preparation at the Slade School of Art, and followed it to the admiration of her Victorian contemporaries.

Ingres's Odalisque with a Lutenist is elicited from enticing hues of crimson, vanilla, dark gold, striated green and shadowed flesh-tones. Large flat areas of local colour break up the fretted oriental decoration. The odalisque lies, her waxen serpentine body lax in the abandon of listening to music that entrances the lute-player herself: the music, and the ripple of the small indoor fountain that plays nearby. The guard, a negro eunuch, drowses on his feet, solid and unmoved. The oriental accessories are unemphatic: a fan, a well-wrought hookah and a lute inlaid with cut hard-stones and mother-of-pearl.

Never satisfied with his own work, Ingres constantly painted or planned variants: there are six versions of Paolo and Francesca da Rimini. In a further version of Odalisque with a Lutenist (Baltimore Museum) painted two years later, Ingres decided that the Harvard picture of 1839 needed more recession, and therefore opened up the back wall to a wooded garden, whilst dressing the eunuch in lighter clothes so that he became less a barrier; but as Ingres in his intense artistic honesty accepted, the influx of light flattens the odalisque's torso and nullifies the lutenist's dreaming face, which are the twin foci of the painting. It is not surprising that Ingres, so eager to get everything right, actually wept over the trials of composition, in which the solving of a problem creates other problems. The Harvard rendering, though too enclosed, was in all other respects more accomplished.

Sometimes Ingres had good reason to shut out a background. A curious retrospective sketch from 1864 in the Winthrop Collection revises the picture, Raphael's Betrothal (Waiters Gallery, Baltimore), completed fifty years previously. In the sketch the scene is lit by a window that opens on a verdant landscape. In the finished picture there is a heavy door, with a scarlet plush curtain guarded by a page, instead of a window. The rest of the room is darkly panelled. The sketch is prettier, but the painting shows how Raphael, boxed in by his patron Cardinal Bibbiena's wish that he should marry the cardinal's niece, had to propose a marriage which neither party wanted. Raphael was covertly determined to continue his rakish amours; and the cardinal's niece was, in turn, affronted by Raphael's reluctant courtship. The cardinal has to drag their hands together. The shadowy wails, unbroken even by a window, are a physical counterpart to the moral coercion of the pair.

The Age of Gold, towards which Ingres worked for most of his life, now exists only in the miniature reconstruction by Ingres himself in the Winthrop Collection of his project for the unfinished and poorly preserved fresco at the Chateau de Dampierre. There the duc de Luynes reneged on his commission, and disheartened the aged Ingres, intent on his lifework, on the grounds that there were too many nudes. Did M. de Luynes expect breeches and crinolines in the Age of Innocence? The Age of Gold is an assemblage of superb life-studies, so much so that Ingres's preparatory drawings were widely reproduced as examples in British art schools before their decline in the 1960s. Sadly, in the Harvard replica the outlines are slightly fuzzier than in the drawings, because of Ingres's unusual application of oil-paint to paper stuck on a panel.

The subject derives from the Stoic doctrine, affirmed in Virgil's Fourth Bucolic, of the cycle of successive ages: first the Golden Age, then three others of continuous decline. During the reign of Saturn, which preceded that of the capricious Olympian gods, all men were equal and owned all land in common, under the guidance of the just goddess Astraea. Both Saturn and Astraea preside over Ingres's imagined commonwealth. Perhaps Ingres had in mind the quickly thwarted idealism of the French Revolution, in which his master, Jacques-Louis David, had played an important part.

Men of wrought terracotta and women, as if chipped from pearl with a jeweller's concentration, cross the meadows, or gather around the goddess of Justice, or lie on the grass in debonair attitudes. Embracing spouses with their children are sprinkled with flowers by amoretti, as they regale themselves with the copious fruit of their communal orchard and listen to the incantation of a falling stream. Even a horse champs a bunch of grapes, Ingres described his subject as 'a crowd of beautiful and indolent people', a statement which sounds censorious when made by an artist who lived in an industrial and industrious age. He has indeed created a garden of idle delights, though less fantastic than that of Hieronymus Bosch. It is more like the Elder Cranach's visions of the Golden Age and the Paradise Garden, with apple-trees and fruit bushes in a valley buttressed with crags, from which a stepped watercourse runs into a pool. Baudelaire suggests that Ingres admired the German Nazarenes; although there is no record of Ingres's having visited the galleries where Cranach's magical gardens, with their lithe figures, were preserved.

In his vision of an earthly paradise Ingres may have overlooked the fact that inertia is intolerable to mankind: merely procreating, attending civic meetings, eating apples and grapes, splashing in a stream. Perhaps that is how the Age of Silver came about. Like Johnson's Prince Rasselas in his Happy Valley, they will be bored at having nothing to aspire to. As Thackeray once wrote, 'If we were in the Garden of Eden, now, and the gate were open, we should go out, and tramp forward and push on ... anything to keep moving, anything to get a change, anything but quiet'.

'Only exactly drawn facial expression is convincing', Ingres averred in his Notes on Art. To judge by his self-portrait of 1859, when he was 79 years old and loaded with honours (conspicuously displayed on his coat), he exemplifies Thackeray's saying. The pained eyes with their troubled assessing gaze, and the unhappy tremulous mouth, suggest that he is sad amid wide laudation. There is so much to do, there are so many past accomplishments to improve. His Age of Gold was in disarray. He still has his energy and physical capacity left, but not much time. The face is that of a sober but vehement man. The favourite composer of this artist, who was also a talented violinist, was Gluck, that exponent of well-tempered emotion whose Furies romp, in his Orfeo, to such a controlled measure; whose Orpheus laments his Eurydice in rondo form. Ingres's reticence, precision and authority were not supported by impassivity, or even by calm. (See 'Portraits by Ingres' in the April 1999 number of Contemporary Review.)

Commendably, Winthrop preferred well-wrought and intellectually sharp pictures. Gustave Moreau, whom he specially favoured, used discernment, both academic and psychological, to pierce classical and biblical themes to their core. Moreau's watercolours, such as The Sirens, are often more direct, and therefore more forceful, than the oil-paintings which he laboured at, incessantly adding and changing, and, still not satisfied, still unready to make them public, left unfinished in his studio at his death. The three Sirens, though more closely twined, with mingled limbs, than Canova's Three Graces, do not look at each other. They scan the waves for ships to wreck on their labyrinthine rocks disguised with crustacea and weeds of the same colour as the sea. Themselves as sterile as the brackish water that laps round them, they long for the destruction of sailors. Their red-gold manes, descending to the ground, are tressed with sea-wrack, coral and shells. Their pallid skin deviates into their brindled twisting sea-snake tails. In the waning sun traversed by red stratal cloud, they would look from afar like an outcrop of the shore.

To Moreau, a Parisian who spent most of his adult life in an inherited house secure in the tangle of lanes between the Place Clichy and La Trinite Church, the Sirens symbolised the hazards of a wandering bohemian life, such as that of his friend Theodore Chasseriau, Ingres's renegade pupil. Moreau commemorated Chasseriau's death in the canvas, The Young Man and Death, replete with the Neo-Classical imagery of Ingres's early work. Naked except for an Homeric girdle, Chausseriau crowns himself with a golden wreath. Multicoloured birds fly out of the hourglass held by the comely female figure of Death, who rests her sword in the shadows behind him. Around him white roses have fallen into a Delacroix-like puddle of blood.

Audacity and peril reciprocate in the panel called The Chimera: a chimera in the sense of a fantasy rather than a monster. A nymph clasps the mane of a winged centaur (a savage and reckless Pegasus) as he plunges from a cliff-top to pursue a mirage into the enchanted twilit sky. The picture may be a symbol of the hazards of an attachment to a poet or an artist, dangers which are so grimly narrated in Zola's novel, L'Oeuvre, the hero of which is, in part, a portrait of the perfectionist Moreau.

Moreau's canvas, The Apparition, is from his series of pictures of Salome's wanton dance, clad only in a jewelled collar and girdle and a peacock train of silks, before Herod. Without pausing in her dance she points at a vision of the Baptist's severed head, her real objective, the aureole of which dims Herod on his vaulted throne. Prophetically an executioner stands still and grim by Herod's side with his bloodied sword. Jacob and the Angel is painted in such moulded impasto that it looks embossed. Beneath Moreau's often repeated image of a moon bisected by a thin cloud, Jacob wrestles not with the angel but with an unseen adversary, perhaps his own lower nature, of which he had plenty, in the presence of a contemplative angel who merely grasps his right forearm in encouragement.

Always attracted by fine drawing, Winthrop acquired not only works by Ingres and Moreau but also Beardsley's stark, taut and witty arrangements of black and white, as well as choice decorative works by Edward Burne-Jones, that meticulous painter of legends. Most of Burne-Jones's women in the Winthrop collection have the gamine face and bobbed red hair of his favourite model, Maria Zambaco, whose memory persisted in his imagination long after their parting. Elsewhere in his androgynous reveries she played both Gabriel and Mary, Minerva and Persius, Cupid and Psyche. Here in the person of Danae she watches in snub-nosed wonder the building of the Tower of Brass, within a prospect which contains a delicate miniature of a fountain-court more Victorian-Gothic than classical Greek. As Psyche she stares with surprised eyes at Pan (herself with an olive face and pointed ears), who has rescued her from a river. The draughtsmanship is worthy of Ingres although, as in most of Burne-Jones's paintings, the composition lacks verve and decisiveness. Burne-Jones was an antiquarian somnabulist groping among his happy dreams. In the words of Gilbert's song he could have 'walked down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in his medieval hand'.

The National Gallery cannot be blamed for the imported and overpriced catalogue (35 [pounds sterling] for the laminated paperback edition), with its ponderous, ill-written introductory essay, and catalogue-notes which are opinionated instead of factual and explanatory. It can and should be blamed for its alternative to the catalogue. Its 'beautifully illustrated souvenir book' is capricious in its choice of colour-plates (7.95 [pounds sterling], with soft cardboard cover and arch, chatty notes). Ingres, the main point of the exhibition with thirty of his works, is allotted five reproductions and Moreau only one. Holman Hunt has two execrably tasteless exhibits, both of which pieces of lurid kitsch are reproduced. This appalling souvenir rejoices, like Salome in the one reproduction from Moreau, in a decapitation. One hastens to say that this deplorable lopping-off of promise and accomplishment is confined to the mere silly appendage of the picture-book.

The exhibition itself is ample and lively. Admirers of Ingres, Moreau and Burne-Jones, and students of Neo-Classicism and Symbolism, who miss this concentrated display may later regret having lost a signal opportunity.

A Private Passion: Harvard's Winthrop Collection is at the National Gallery, during its usual generous opening hours, until 14 September. Admission costs 7 [pounds sterling], with various concessions.
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Title Annotation:A Private Passion: Harvard's Winthrop Collection
Author:Bruce, Donald
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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