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PORTRAIT OF JEAN ALAUX, BY JEAN-AUGUSTE-DOMINIQUE INGRES
Known as 'The Roman' for the time he spent in Rome, as well as to distinguish him from the others members of his family who were also artists, Jean Alaux built a great friendship with Ingres during their time in the eternal city beginning in 1816. When the young painter arrived at the Villa Medici immediately after winning the Academy Prize in 1815, Ingres was living with his wife in a first floor apartment at number 34 on the Via Gregoriana. The lives of Ingres and Alaux were nevertheless remarkably similar, which may explain their friendship to which the portraits they created of each other bear witness. In 1818, Alaux produced a work which is now housed in the Ingres Museum in Montauban (fig. 1; Inv. MI.50.545) and which depicts the Ingres family in their Rome apartment. The picture opens up into a view through the rooms of the house on the Via Gregoriana, with Ingres' wife, Madeleine Chapelle, in the foreground and the artist surrounded by his works and holding his favourite violin in the background. No detail is missing in this intimate portrait of the famous artist, including the crouching cat and the large hat, a much beloved accessory of Madame Ingres. In the same year, 1818, Ingres produced a portrait of Alaux (fig. 2; private collection, Naef, 1977-1980, op. cit., vol. II, no. 226). It is possible that the two artists exchanged their respective works as gifts.
Jean Alaux was born on 15th January 1785 in Bordeaux. The son of a painter, like Ingres, he was initially trained at home by his father with his brothers, who would also become painters. Following an initial stay at the French Academy in Rome between 1816 and 1821, Alaux returned to France with a heavy heart. He wrote in one of his letters, 'I am leaving tomorrow, to my great regret, as I will be leaving the true and only country of the arts: outside Rome there is no haven' (J.P. Alaux, Académie de France à Rome, II, Paris, 1933, pp. 191-192). However, he would not remain for a long time in Paris; in 1822, his tutor, Guérin, accepted the post as the Director of the Academy, succeeding Thévenin, and invited his pupil to return to the Villa Medici.
In 1827, he married Françoise-Virginie Liégeois, the widow of his childhood friend Pallière, also a pastellist. The best years of Jean Alaux's life were to follow, culminating with the birth of their daughter in 1830. She died from an illness in 1843, leaving her parents in deep despair. In the Spring of 1847, Jean Alaux was nevertheless appointed as the Director of the French Academy in Rome. He held the post until 1851, when he was appointed to the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris. His life continued peacefully and he retained all his abilities to admire and to 'stay young in his old age' (E. Guillaume, 'Un directeur de l'Académie de France Rome, M. Jean Alaux', in Revue des deux mondes, Paris, 1890, p. 183). This same youthfulness is apparent in this portrait produced by Ingres.
This work bears neither a signature nor a date, but as emphasised by Naef 'it is, so to speak, signed thoughout' (op. cit., 1966, p. 264). It should be added that the sheet has very probably been trimmed, when compared to others, in particular the other portrait dating from 1818 (fig. 2). Its provenance - remaining in the family of Aline Alaux until the 1960s - confirms its attribution.
It should also be noted that this picture was probably executed by Ingres by observing the model through a mirror, as explained by Naef (op. cit., 1977-1980, p. 285). Lapels on the suit are in fact reversed compared to the way in which they are worn by men. Moreover, when compared to the portrait produced in 1818, Jean Alaux's hairstyle is also reversed.
The Roman period forged a strong bond between the two artists. When Alaux left Rome for Paris in 1821, he stopped in Florence, where he met a childhood friend of Ingres, Jean-Franois Gilibert. In a letter to the latter, Ingres asks him: 'Out of weakness and predilection for my painting [Christ giving the keys to Saint Peter], please do me the honour of telling me what the honest Alaux told you about it, as far as you can remember. It has only ever been from others that I have learnt of his opinion of me, because he is quite cold. But it is always advantageous to me to know everything, in order to benefit from it, where necessary' (Naef, 1977-1980, op. cit, p. 281).
Despite their difference in age and reputation, the opinion of his friend Alaux remained always very important for Ingres.