Picasso Ingres: Face to Face

Pablo Picasso encountered Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s late, great portrait Madame Moitessier (1856) at a major retrospective dedicated to the French artist in 1921, and he never forgot it. Eleven years later, while engrossed in a series of works that depict his young lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso painted Woman with a Book, one of the most direct homages to Ingres that he had made to date. For the first time, these two extraordinary, interrelated paintings will be displayed together in a special exhibition entitled Picasso Ingres: Face to Face. A partnership between the National Gallery, London, and the Norton Simon Museum, this exhibition explores Picasso’s long-standing fascination with Ingres and the generative process that resulted from his confrontation with a celebrated work of art.

Commissioned in 1844, Madame Moitessier is one of Ingres’s most ambitious and challenging works. The painting depicts Marie-Clotilde-Inès Moitessier, the wife of a wealthy merchant, resplendent in an armchair and surrounded by the luxurious trappings of her grand salon. Though Ingres avoided portraiture at this stage in his career (preferring the intellectual challenge of history painting), he was purportedly convinced to paint Inès Moitessier after being “struck by her beauty” in person. Finally completed in 1856, Madame Moitessier was immediately recognized as one of Ingres’s greatest achievements, a complex and captivating likeness that balances the sitter’s imperious pose with an illogically angled reflection in the mirror behind her that appears to defy the rules of optics altogether.

Ingres’s propensity to bend naturalistic representation appealed to many modernists, most notably Picasso, who looked to him for inspiration throughout the first three decades of his career. Woman with a Book depicts Walter reprising Moitessier’s iconic pose, but Picasso transformed and amplified his source, brightening and abstracting the palette and heightening the sitter’s eroticism. Even Moitessier’s famously incongruent reflection gains an extra dimension here, as the androgynous profile in the gold-framed mirror alludes to Walter and to the artist himself—a ghostly voyeur on the scene.

Madame Moitessier was acquired by the National Gallery, London, in March of 1936, coincidentally the very same month that Woman with a Book was first exhibited in Paris (it joined the Simon collections in 1960). Now, 101 years after Picasso’s initial encounter with Madame Moitessier, audiences will at last have the opportunity to view these two masterpieces side by side.

Picasso Ingres: Face to Face will be on view in the Norton Simon Museum’s 20th-century galleries from October 21, 2022, to January 30, 2023, following its presentation at the National Gallery from June 3 to October 9, 2022. To complement the exhibition, the two institutions have partnered to produce a catalogue that explores the relationship between Madame Moitessier and Woman with a Book in greater depth. The volume is authored by Christopher Riopelle, the Neil Westreich Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at the National Gallery, London; Emily Talbot, the Chief Curator of the Norton Simon Museum; and Susan L. Siegfried, the Denise Riley Collegiate Professor Emerita of the History of Art and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.