We took advantage of yesterday’s spring-like sunshine, abandoned the computers and awarded ourselves a day off. We spent it at Montauban, where we had to go anyway to collect our new identity cards – more of that anon. I’ve written about Montauban before but, for the first time in 16 years, we set foot in the Musée Ingres. It’s named after one of Montauban’s more famous sons, the artist Jean-August-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867).
On the way, we had a fantastic view of the snow-capped Pyrénées just before the road drops down to Septfonds. You rarely see the mountains, only when the air is especially clear, normally when it’s going to rain within 48 hours. Yesterday, we had one of the clearest views ever. They are several hundred kilometres away, but loomed surprisingly large on the horizon.
After the Préfecture and a very pleasant lunch at a restaurant we hadn’t tried before, it was off to the Ingres Museum. It’s housed in the old episcopal palace, built in the late 17th century on top of a medieval fortress that the English constructed during the Hundred Years War. The magnificent vaulted chamber in the basement, known as the Black Prince’s chamber, now contains a collection of architectural stonework from churches and abbeys in the region. The object that looks like a long table in the middle of the photo is in fact a torturer’s rack.
Ingres himself spent only his first 12 years in Montauban. He studed at l‘Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse and then under the painter David. He spent many years in Italy, where the classical Italian painters greatly influenced him, especially Raphaël. He became one of the leaders of the classical school and died at the ripe old age of 87.
I have to say he is not my favourite painter and I find his historical and religious subjects melancholy and a bit over-stylised, such as Jesus among the doctors. I prefer his portraits and nudes, especially the realism of his paintings of male torsos. And he did paint with a purity of colour that few achieve. The museum has more than 4,500 of his sketches and studies, of which he sometimes produced as many as 200 while working on a painting. Most of his major works are in other galleries around the world.
Ingres was also an accomplished violinist and played 2nd violin with the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse as a teenager. This gave rise to an expression in French, “violon d’Ingres”, which refers to a person’s second skill beyond the one for which they are more commonly known. The museum has preserved his violin for posterity.
Part of the museum houses sculptures by another Montalbanais, Emile-Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929). He studied under Rodin, whose influence is evident in his work. He sculpted more than 100 portraits of Beethoven, using himself as a model, since he apparently resembled him.
The Musée Ingres often has temporary exhibitions and is small enough to be doable in an afternoon. However, we left the top floor, which contains Ingres’ personal collection of paintings, for another time.
While we were by the river, we went to see the tidemark on a riverside building that shows how high the water rose during the great flood of 3rd March 1930. The River Tarn can become a raging torrent after heavy rain. In March 1930 a moving wall of water rose 17 metres above its normal level in Montauban. It swept away everything in its path, drowned about 300 people and destroyed low-lying parts of Montauban and most of Moissac, further downriver. A good argument for living on high ground.
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