Musée Ingres at Montauban

Musée Ingres

Musée Ingres

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.

Chambre du Prince Noir

Chambre du Prince Noir

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.

Le violon d'Ingres

Le violon d’Ingres

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.

Bourdelle sculpture

Bourdelle sculpture

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.

1930 flood marker

1930 flood marker

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.

Montauban - River Tarn

Montauban – River Tarn

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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14 Responses to Musée Ingres at Montauban

  1. amelie88 says:

    Wow, I’m very impressed with how high the water rose during the flooding in 1930! I’m pretty sure in parts of New York City and New Jersey, the flood waters rose just as high (especially thanks to the rising tides right along the coast) during Hurricane Sandy last fall.

    I never visited Montauban when I was studying abroad in Toulouse but I always wanted to. Next time I’m in the region I will have to go take a look.

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    • nessafrance says:

      I’m sure that Hurricane Sandy was much scarier than what happened here in 1930. Nonetheless, it seems as if the 1930 flooding here was impressive in its own way. I have read several contemporary accounts of it and maybe one day I will post about it.

      Next time you are in the region, do take a look at Montauban. The outskirts are nothing to write home about but there’s plenty to see if you know where to look. Happy to provide suggestions, in any case.

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  2. Evelyn says:

    Another place to add to my ‘to do’ list. That vaulted chamber is gorgeous! Who knew Ingres played the violin? The crue marker is chilling!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Worth a visit and the centre of Montauban is, too. Ingres was obviously a man of many talents.
      Yes, the flood must have been terrifying. Impossible to imagine it rising as high as that.

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  3. Amazing what a river can become. Wonderful to have made this visit, thank you for sharing.

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    • nessafrance says:

      It was time we did visit the museum after 16 years here! Yet further evidence of my contention that you never do tourist things when you live in a place.

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  4. lizgyooll says:

    Terrifying the story of the flood and I suppose it could always, possibly happen again. I loved the Ingres museum, especially the very striking male nude … it’s a cracker!

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    • nessafrance says:

      The Tarn has risen quite high during our time here as has the Aveyron, its tributary. Fortunately, we would be extremely unlucky to be flooded where we live!
      The Ingres Museum is worth seeing. I just wish I liked Ingres more.

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      • lizgyooll says:

        Ingres’ portraits are wonderful and the best is the odalisque with her back turned towards you …. it’s the most masterful piece of painting. The male nude in the Montauban museum is also a pièce de resistance … I was quite weak at the knees after seeing that; wish I could paint something half as good.

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      • nessafrance says:

        You’ll know far more about all this than I do. As I said in the post, I prefer his portraits and nudes to his other stuff. And I like the Odalisque – in the Louvre, I think? Can’t remember.

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  5. Some great photos here. I love the vaulted chamber. I’m also interested in your comment about when you can see the Pyrenees. From our house in Caunes Minervois we have occasional stunning views… as you say, cold mornings…. but I’ve never identified why not on all cold mornings… now I will know to expect rain later on !

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    • nessafrance says:

      The vaulted chamber was one of the high points of our visit, although it’s rather damp and the exhibits are generally not terribly interesting. But it’s a period of history that fascinates me. We are quite a lot further north of the Pyrénées than you are but we have learned over 16 years that views of them are best a couple of days before rain. Yesterday morning we saw them stretching across the horizon, which is very rare. And – guess what – it rained that very night.

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  6. Floss says:

    Oh, it’s just up the motorway and I’ve never been! Thanks for opening my eyes to the opportunities – I expect we’ll take a trip up there some time now.

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    • nessafrance says:

      I have always felt that Montauban suffers from its proximity to Toulouse. Its outskirts are not attractive but the centre of Montauban has a lot of interesting things to see and it’s known as the pinkest of the pink cities (including Toulouse and Albi). Do let me know if you come up – would be great to meet you.

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