Lost in New York: painter and critic Alexander Adams discovers an unlikely empathy between Ingres and de Kooning

New York City, home to great collections of art, is never short of key works by important artists to measure against one another. Autumn 2011, three displays have coincided to allow people to compare the skills of a modern master with those of a predecessor who influenced him. Willem

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de Kooning (1904-1997) revered J.A.D. Ingres (1780-1867) for

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both his devotion to the human figure and technical skill (in drawing especially). De Kooning vowed he would never paint a tree and his art never strayed too far from the //--> portrait or
nude, even at its most abstracted. Likewise, Ingres never manifested much interest in landscape and still-life either. Both painters were noted by peers as being consummate painters of flesh, principally female.

MoMA claim that De Kooning: src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> A Retrospective (until 9 January) is the “first major museum exhibition devoted to the full scope of the career of Willem de Kooning”. As the current survey includes work from 1983-7 not included in a much larger 1983 retrospective shown in Berlin and New York (the current show has 195 works, the earlier one had 280) the press release is technically accurate google_ad_slot = "6023194682"; while being a touch grandiloquent.

Filling the sixth floor of the

new MoMA building for the first time, the retrospective provides some surprises


and confirms some expectations. (Incidentally, the
airy building is both impressive and a sympathetic environment for art.) Firstly, the confirmations:

few of the best oils of the period are missing from this selection, the sequence on one wall is a glory. These are what the late 1950s should have been: serpentine
trails of ultramarine, black and pink wind around bursts of loosely brushed colour.
Have any more purely
joyful and

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playful paintings been made in the late 20th century?

The paintings from 1981–1990 (the “White” or “Ribbon” paintings) are still

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contested. In these canvases the painter simplified radically, reducing his palette to cadmium red, cadmium yellow and ultramarine, with black being used only for lines and white predominating. The Ribbon paintings are strongly linear, with ribbons of colour gently jinking across the picture surface, sometimes enclosed areas of evenly brushed hues. The Ribbon paintings were made by painting over charcoal tracings (drawn by studio assistants) of old drawings projected onto the primed canvas.

Detractors consider them evidence of waning powers, less tactile and lacking engagement with the characteristics of oil paint. They point


to the influence of the assistants in preparing canvases and even selecting the combinations of drawings transferred to the canvas. (Age and alcoholism blunted the artist’s mental capabilities and dementia set in during the 1980s, leading to his google_ad_width = 970; family being granted power of attorney over his

than his oils, a

of anatomy is least distracting /* xin-1 */ in the sketches.

Best known for his proficiently sentimental Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1834) in the National Gallery, Paul Delaroche is represented by a marvellously delicate portrait of Antoine Alphonse Montfort (undated) in multiple drawing media. The finely graduated face gazes out sculpturally precise, a single touch of white gouache on his ring gleams in a startlingly

present manner. If Delaroche made more portrait drawings of this quality then they deserve to be better known.

There are two pieces which have