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"THE TURKISH BATH."

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Analysis of the Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres oil painting.... More...
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Paper Abstract:
Analysis of the Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres oil painting. Discusses the title and content of the 1859 painting, and its revision in 1863. Representation of women. Frankness of the artist's expression; sexual fantasy. Implied message of painting regarding French colonialism. Art historian Walter Friendlaender's account of the painting. John Berger's "Way of Seeing."

Paper Introduction:
John Berger's Ways of Seeing makes many suggestions about how to look at works from the great period of Western oil painting (1500-1900). He argues that the traditional ways in which art history looked at painting involved a great deal of mystification, that is, "the process of explaining away what might otherwise be evident" (Berger 15-16). In Berger's view mystification involves explanations of the meanings of pictures, the reasons why they were painted, and what they meant to the painters and the owners. Analyses that mystify cover up certain aspects of this art; specifically those related to domination--domination of women by men, of the weak by the powerful, and of the not-rich by the rich. A closer look at one picture demonstrates how careful interrogation of what is in front of the viewer brings out information and possible meanings that are not

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Such sights are not to be seen in France and, therefore, thepicture has a veneer of 'anthropological' interest. The art historian seems toconspire with the painter in this respect--as if they had a sharedunderstanding of the importance of maintaining such power (even if only inpaint) over women. The painting, which is at the Louvre Museum inParis, was oil on canvas on wood. The next paragraph begins, "It isamazing that a man eighty years old should have been able to create a workthat had both the living warmth and the artistic distance of the Bain Turc[but] Ingres still possessed a tremendous vitality" (235). And, of course, hypocritically, the sensual, self-indulgent,inherently 'unproductive' culture that supports such phenomena as Ingres'(imaginary) harem is badly in need of the civilizing touch of Europe. But the evocation of an exotic Near-Eastern setting is not simply anexcuse for the display of Ingres' sexual fantasy. The harem woman lying back upon her cushions, her thick, supple limbs apathetically stretched out to any gaze is the perfect expression of this type (234).At first this does not seem so terribly indirect as an account of thesexual appeal of the picture. Under NapoleonIII the theory of empire was propagated and "in the 186 s . Heargues that the traditional ways in which art history looked at paintinginvolved a great deal of mystification, that is, "the process of explainingaway what might otherwise be evident" (Berger 15-16). http://www.ahtg.net/TpA/frcolacqu.htmlFriedlaender, Walter. But when compared with the degree of sheersexual spectacle offered in The Turkish Bath Friedlaender's discussionseems very muted. There areslight touches of the exotic in a few (very few) fabrics, the vase in theniche, the instrument in a woman's hands. This essayexamines a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres called The TurkishBath (Bain Turc) and compares this reading of the painting with an accountof it written by the art historian Walter Friedlaender in 1952. Berger notes that whereas painting "was naturally painted n thepresent tense the advertising image "which is ephemeral uses only thefuture tense," thereby indicating what one will accomplish when one buysthe product (144). 217-35.Rosenblum, Robert. It is a fantasy of ownershipthat extends in time and number the usual presentation of a nude two and,as such, has almost a greedy feel to it. He concludeswith a discussion of the historical role of Ingres' career which lay in"his purifying the art of his time by ridding it of the worn-out formulasand gestures of an old, stale classicism" (235). "The Transformation of Classicism in the Art of Ingres." [1952]. Second, the mass ofnudes is justified by the nominal subject. The departure from theclassical tradition of representing one or two women at a time is'authorized' by the fact that this is 'just the way things are' in such asetting--disregarding the fact that Ingres has never seen such a settingand is basing his idea on travelers' tales and fantasy (and apparentlyunaware that the women in Turkish harems were not blond, pale, northernEuropeans). A closer lookat one picture demonstrates how careful interrogation of what is in frontof the viewer brings out information and possible meanings that are notevident from the analyses of art historians of the past. A European interpretation of the exotic notion of the harem as merelya sealed-off collection of many beautiful women, available only to the manwho owns the right to them, is clearly the guiding idea in this picture.And the frankness of the artist's expression of this notion is surprising.There is no detailed pretense that it is anything other than a catalogue ofthe physical attributes of a particular female physical type that is shown,with small variations, in as many angles and poses as the painter candevise within the limits of a certain degree of discretion. Without any specificpolitical intentions at all the painting does, none the less, demonstratethe popular conception of this foreign 'other' underlying the colonialproject. The title of the picturerefers to a Turkish bath and it seems to be located in a fantasy haremwhere all of the women are about the same age, and body- and facial-type.The vast sprawl of women clearly takes the fantasy of the availability ofwomen to new heights. It may also havefunctioned as an advertisement for the old man's continuing "vitality"--whether he needed to continue to get work or simply wanted to assure theworld that he was simply the same man he always was (a 'man' being definedby the extent of his ability to do his job and his sexual abilities). More importantly to Ingres, perhaps, he indicates that hewill continue to be a sexually powerful man and that he will continue topaint fine pictures. Theyare simply engaged in ordinary rituals of bathing and grooming and thealmost ecstatic expressions and poses of a number of the women can beblamed, if any asks, on the languorous heat of the bath. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. It appears that the work was not a commission but waspainted simply to please the painter himself--although it may have beenintended for eventual sale. Ways of Seeing. But this ignores a high degree of 'future tense-ness'in a painting such as Ingres' Turkish Bath. Readings in Art History, Vol. The future is sometimes as important to paintings asit is in advertising. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Even though the Easternizing touches in the picture are few, however,they are noteworthy in that Ingres uses them as an excuse--and he does thisin several ways. For one thing, there is a slight pretense that thispainting represents something that is inherently interesting because it isexotic. Analyses that mystify cover up certain aspects of this art;specifically those related to domination--domination of women by men, ofthe weak by the powerful, and of the not-rich by the rich. It provides examples of some of theideas Berger discussed in relation to the representation of women, as wellas some ideas he did not touch on--but which the viewer has to ask as soonas s/he compares the title and the painting. Online. Ingres' painting was originally a rectangular composition (1859) thatwas revised in 1863 when he turned it into a round work with a diameter of42.5 inches (1 8 cm). As far as the treatment of the foreign 'other'as depicted in the painting, Friedlaender does give it a touch ofvalidation by mentioning that the "immediate source" of the picture wascertainly "the amusing description" of a woman's bath in Adrianople (234).Montagu was the wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire buther letter probably did not describe a lot of young, blond women lyingaround waiting for an elderly French painter (or the subsequent male ownersand viewers of the work) to summon them. New York: Abrams, 1985. And he says that Ingres always showed his fascination by this type of sensuous, sleepy, animal-like woman [but] in contrast to Delacroix, Ingres looked upon his odalisque not as an object full of colorful charm, nor simply as an exoticism, but rather as a type of female. The nineteenth centurywas the era of France's expansion into a new colonial empire and theIslamic regions of North Africa and, to a lesser extent, the Near East,were very important in this. Friedlaender, however, touched only indirectly on its sexual nature(and very indirectly on its implications for French colonialism) in hisdiscussion of the painting. Third, the women are not engaged in any overtly sexualbehavior, which would not be 'licensed' by the demands of decorum that arepart of the conventional pretense that sexuality is not the point. But what is more striking is that themanner in which Friedlaender is impressed by the continuing "vitality" ofthe elderly painter is somewhat like congratulating him on his thecontinuation of sexual power into old age. But following the preceding passage and asentence about the painting's relationship to the "archaism of Ingres'youth," Friedlaender, perhaps inadvertently, makes the strictly sexualappeal of the picture obvious (234). Ed. . John Berger's Ways of Seeing makes many suggestions about how to lookat works from the great period of Western oil painting (15 -19 ). It is undoubtedly true that Ingres had an effect on the nature ofclassical influence in modern French painting and that he influencedartists such as Manet and Degas. France'soverseas holdings expanded tremendously," including the government'sefforts to "fully subjugate the native populations in French colonies ofsettlement [including] the Algerian Arabs and Berbers that drew thecondemnation of humanitarians throughout Europe" ("French Colonial").Ingres' painting, done at the outset of the big push for empire, does notfunction as a poster advertising the charms of these lands (although thatmay be a part of its unstated message) but it does characterize the Islamiclands as essentially feminized, weak and available. Ingres is, unconsciouslyperhaps, indicating what the French will find in their new colonies and,more consciously, indicating the pleasures that the man viewing the picturewill experience. 2 The Renaissance to the Present. But, ultimately, these womenpossess only one major trait--availability. In terms of the picture's sexual content he is a little more frank.Friedlaender does allow that the figures "lie, sit, or wallow" in arepetition of the "sensuality" of some earlier Ingres paintings which hereis "much intensified by the sense of compression among the female forms"(234). Works CitedBerger, John. [1972] New York: Penguin, 1977."French Colonial Acquisitions." Alternate History Travel Guides. But he makes little of theimplications of the picture as far as the French colonial undertaking isconcerned. The older empire had languished but in the183 s "what began as a simple punitive expedition against the Bey ofAlgiers turned into a war of conquest" ("French Colonial"). Harold Spencer. . In Berger's viewmystification involves explanations of the meanings of pictures, thereasons why they were painted, and what they meant to the painters and theowners. And in this sense the picture may have functioned notjust as an entertainment for Ingres in which he could develop, in greatnumbers, the type of woman who interested him sexually. They are simply shown ashaving nothing to do--nothing except await the pleasure of the man for whomthey spend their time grooming themselves.

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