The Source

7:00 AM

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, The Source, 1856

Ingres searched for perfection in his nude female figures by exaggerating and elongating their forms, creating sensual curves and strangely attenuated poses. However, The Source, which he left unfinished for more than 30 years, depicts a woman with more realistic proportions and sculptural smoothness, pouring a silvery stream of water into the pool at her feet. The water is just beginning to ripple, not yet disturbing the reflection of her feet, leaving her image frozen in time. Her undeniable sexuality is tempered by the body of water separating her from the viewer and her cold expression. The smooth, simplified curves of her body and the matte texture of the paint make her resemble a sculpture more than a living woman. She represents a natural spring, as well as a Muse and a source of poetic inspiration.

The painting was first exhibited in 1856, when Ingres was seventy-six and well advanced in his career. The first owner displayed it surrounded by flowers and aquatic plants, emphasizing its connection to the earth:  the delicate flowers on either side of the figure suggest an image of purity, while ivy was sacred to Dionysus, god of wine and totally sick parties. The effect of the surrounding greenery supposedly emphasized the painting’s realism even more. The Source has often been praised as one of Ingres’ best works, or even “the most beautiful figure in French painting.” The smooth, sculptural treatment and allusions to Greek myth place it firmly in the realm of superb Neoclassical paintings.

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