Lines, Lines, Everywhere There’s Lines…

Charles Nègre (French, 1820 – 1880)
[Portrait of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres], plate about 1844; print April 1982, Engraving
10.6 × 12.9 cm (4 3/16 × 5 1/16 in.), 84.XM.692.18
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) was a neoclassicist, famous for his Grande Odelisque amongst many other recognizable images, once said:

“Draw lines, young man. Many lines, from memory or from nature; it is in this way that you will become a good artist.”

His student, Charles Nègre obviously took that to heart in this portrait of his master instructor. Yet when one takes a good look at many of Ingres’ drawings, there is an economy of line that is almost austere and miserly, tight and precise. There is beauty in it. I think he may have drawn to many lines from nature or memory that it became automatic for him in his use and placement of line and mark. You won’t see the many pentimenti lines that show on DaVinci or Michelangelo’s drawings. The certainty of his marks are….well, remarkable!

Fräulein Ritter – Jean August Dominique Ingres (1817) – Courtesy of Christie’s.

I don’t doubt that for Ingres, living through the French Revolution, the Napoleon Wars and great change in class, politics and views on societal organization, that he constantly fought with himself as to his mark-making and control.

The times we live in make marks upon us all. We, in turn, in making those marks as artists, transpose our times through our mark-making. Line to me, always expresses emotion from both the artist and the subject.

Fast-forward to the 1960’s when I grew up and the Five Man Electrical Band song “Signs” seems somehow to echo in my head as I think of Ingres, his students and his times. Let’s fool around a bit with the lyrics:

LINES (Lyrics from Signs – Five Man Electical Band)

“And the line said “Long-haired freaky people need not apply”
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do”
So I took off my hat, I said “Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!”

Line, line, everywhere a line
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the line?

And the line said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house
“Hey! What gives you the right?”
“To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in”
“If God was here he’d tell you to your face, man, you’re some kinda sinner”

Line, line, everywhere a line
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind…”

“Self Portrait At Age 55” – Jean August Dominique Ingres

I don’t think Ingres drew much of the long-haired freaky people crowd. I think he may have ‘used up’ all of his wacky lines ahead of the French Revolution.

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