Depicting the young Princess Louise Murat, this sheet brilliantly demonstrates Ingres’ observational powers; the sitter’s facial features are rendered to the finest detail and stand in a sharp contrast to her dress, which is drawn in the artist’s characteristic crisp technique. In this drawing Ingres seems not only to have captured Louise’s physical features but also seems to reveal some of her character.
Louise Murat was born in 1805 as the youngest child of Joachim Murat and Caroline Bonaparte, a younger sister of Napoleon, and she became a princess in 1808 when her father was made King of Naples. Ingres is known to have made an oil sketch showing family members of the Murat family in 1814 which the artist mentions in a letter to François Mazois (1783-1826), the architect for the Murat family, ‘J’ai ébauché un petit tableau de la noble famille d’après tous les croquis que j’en ai fait et je crois que le petit tableau terminé serait, je ne doute pas, d’un grand intérêt’ (H. Naef, ‘Un chef-d’oeuvre retrouvé: Le portrait de la reine Caroline Murat par Ingres’, Revue de l’art, 1990, p. 12). Unfortunately, the oil sketch is now lost and the larger painting was probably never executed. However, a group of delicately drawn studies relating to the project has survived and the present sheet is one of them.
Others from the group show the portrait of Laetizia (1802-1859), now in the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge (Inv. 1942.43), the portrait of Caroline (1782-1839) sold at Christie’s, Paris, 25 March 2015, lot 158 and the portraits of Princes Achille and Lucien Murat, offered at Christie’s, London, 5 July 2016, lots 55 and 56 (Naef, op. cit., nos. 117-120, ill). Ingres did not present these drawings to the Murat family, as they were conceived as studies rather than finished drawings, and kept them instead. The portrait of Caroline, however, was presented by Ingres to Mazois, and later he presented the portraits of the children to his relatives, in the case of the present drawing to the painter Prosper Debia. Eight furher drawings, more lineair and quickly executed that those from this group, are now in the Musée d'Ingres, Montauban (inv. 2741-8; see G. Vigne, Dessins d’Ingres. Catalogue raisonné des dessins du Musée de Montauban, Paris, 1995, p. 495-496, ill.).