Nonchalantly stretched out on a deck chair, “the beautiful Madame Riviere” rests in a pose full of abandonment. His body, slightly inclined to the left, gives way to the softness of the cushions on which a beautifully turned arm rests and which finishes a perfect hand; the right arm, around which an oriental scarf of bright colors curls, hangs along the body. Without being regularly beautiful, the figure, framed by black hair and enlightened by two laughing eyes, has grace and an indescribable something. The pleasant maturity of the character is revealed to the opulence of a breast that supports, in the fashion of time, a thin silk ribbon. To give this charming brown beauty its full splendor, the artist has placed around her hair a light veil of white gauze.
In the presence of this magnificent portrait, one wonders today how a painter like Ingres could arouse so much hostile clamor. Where to find a firmer, more honest, safer design? No cheating, no artifice of color, no impasto to conceal an uncertain technique. Everything is clean, frank; precise lines, pronounced outlines, and, above all, a great expression of life obtained with astonishing simplicity of means. Ingres is entirely in that sincerity and harmony which he owed to the elevation of his talent and to the height of the traditions which he personified.
Dedicated to the worship of the Beauty, worshiper of Phidias and Raphael, Ingres never knew failure or doubt. He remained motionless in his faith in the religion of the great style, as are in their attitude those disciples of the School of Athens, whom the Sanzio represented, gathering, one knee on the ground, the teachings of their masters. The heroic and religious art, austere and sublime, transmitted by Antiquity to the Renaissance, found in him his last pontiff. The great types of mythology and Christianity, almost banished from contemporary painting, had taken refuge in his studio.
In the Louvre, Ingres’ paintings are close to those of Delacroix, his mortal adversary. Their meeting in the same room is almost a struggle. The two extreme forms of the genius of art are expressed by their names and are manifested by their works. On the one hand, the ancient nobility, the style reflects the highest examples of the past, the beauty posed as the type and unique theme of the artist’s conceptions; on the other, a violent and hasty design, which sacrifices the line to movement, a radical originality without analogies or kinship, the passion sought at the expense of correction, carried to its climax, embrace and frozen in its convulsions. One can not imagine a more flagrant antagonism, a more hostile and absolute contrast. But art is great; no form contains it, no mode expresses it and does not translate it entirely. The apparent contradictions of teachers and schools are reconciled in his impartial synthesis. Raphael and Rubens, Michelangelo and Veronese, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt, Ingres and Delacroix are also entitled to enter his temple. Like the Homer of Apotheosis of Ingres, Art gathers around its pedestal the most opposite geniuses.
We must not, therefore, mistrust the criticisms that certain extreme spirits direct, even nowadays, against the painting of the great artist. Too often these criticisms are dictated by self-serving reasons and serve to justify weaknesses to which the impeccable art of Ingres is a living reproach.
It must be remembered in which admiring terms Theophile Gautier, a friend of Delacroix, spoke of Ingres in his report on the Fine Arts, in 1855. The fiery romantic red vest did not fear that it was accused to be a bourgeois, a classic, a retrograde, because he was enthusiastic about the last disciple of Raphael. We must reread these pages of lyricism overflowing, scrutinize this criticism which remains final and that have not exceeded in praise the most intransigent ingrist.
Ingres approached all kinds with the same elevation and security; he treated the same style, grandiose and serene, the Odalisques and the Martyrdom of Saint Symphorien; it is found to the same degree in his portraits. No painter has ever had a more exact view of the human form; no hand has been more skillful in fixing it in its entirety on the canvas; Ingres was possessed by this vision, hypnotized by her, and this explains how he is the most naturalist of the French painters while he always tried to be the most idealistic. The portraits of Ingres! One never tires of admiring these figures, all this life enclosed in simple features, revealed by a few lines whose sharpness has the serene harmony of nature. And portraits like those of Bertin and Mme Riviere are works that are revered on the equal of the most beautiful Titians.
The portrait of Mme Riviere was bequeathed to Luxembourg in 1870 by Mrs. Riviere herself. This work then entered the Louvre.
Height: 1.16 – Width: 0.90 – Figure to the full-size knees.