INGRES, Jean-Auguste-Dominique
(b. 1780, Montauban, d. 1867, Paris)

The Turkish Bath

Oil on canvas on wood, diameter 108 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Ingres derived the idea of these swarming nudes in the interior of a harem from Lady Mary Wortley Montague's letters (No. XXVI and XLII). She was the wife of the English ambassador to the Sublime Porte; in these two letters she describes baths in the Seraglio, which she was allowed to enter, and Ingres copied extracts from them into his notebook (No. IX), probably in about 1817.

Several of the figures in this canvas have been taken from earlier pictures; others are new. Ingres had not a very ready imagination, and borrowed from both French and English prints of 'turqueries', going back to the eighteenth or even the sixteenth centuries. Copies of these are still to be seen in the archives of his studio in the Musée de Montauban.

This picture has existed in at least two forms. A first sketch, intended for Comte Demidoff, was executed in 1852, but not delivered; it was probably worked on again after this date, and at the end of 1859 it was bought by Prince Napoleon. The appearance of this picture, which at that time was square, is known from a photograph dated 7 October 1859. On the intervention of Princess Clotilde, scandalized by all those nudes, the Prince returned it to Ingres; M. Reiset was entrusted with negotiating its exchange for a portrait of the artist at the age of twenty-four (now in the Musée Condé, Chantilly). Ingres kept the picture for several years, making various changes in it and giving it its final circular form. He signed it in 1862, indicating with pride that it was the work of a man of eighty-two.