The portrait. A single person immortalized forever on canvas. At first glance, you only see the subject. With a more analytical eye, though, you not only see the image but you begin to hear the voice of the painter and of his time. This is what I hope to do, to feel and understand the mind of the painter Ingres when he painted Louis-Francois Bertin and Reynolds when he painted General John Burgoyne.
In the portrait of Bertin, Ingres has captured on canvas a man who has never been pampered in his life. You feel by looking at him that this is a man who has worked for everything that he has ever received in his life. Why do you feel this, though? Let’s begin with the colors chosen for this piece.
The colors revolve around brown, giving you the impression of something very down to earth. The background of the painting is basically one solid brown. Bertin occupies the whole bottom section of the painting, with nothing of his body going above three-fourths of the canvas. He is the ground, below even the earth tones of the background.
He has on a black suit, brown vest, and white shirt, as well. These colors working together allow you to make certain assumptions about him. He looks like a working man, which he was. “Louis-Francois Bertin (1766-1841), was one of the great leaders of the French upper middle class, a businessman and a journalist” (Rosenblum, 134). This would explain the one striking color in the piece, the red.
Bertin is sitting on a red cushion, red being a color classically associated with royalty. This could be a commentary on Bertin’s life on a whole. His journal, the Journal des Debats was a strong supporter of liberal journalism in a time when France, the monarchs from the self proclaimed Napoleon Bonaparte to King Charles X, wanted the return of an absolute monarch in France. The people were not happy with this and Bertin’s newspaper spread this displeasure. Bertin was even exiled for a period of time by Napoleon Bonaparte for his royalist views. He wanted a constitutional monarch set up. But, after the fall of Bonaparte, Bertin returned and continued his life, prospering. Monet even called this portrait “the Buddha of bourgeoisie” (Rosenblum, 134). This portrait should be looked upon as the pinnacle image of the bourgeoisie of the time.
On the other hand, there may be less of a social commentary and more of a character commentary in Reynolds’ portrait of General Burgoyne. In this portrait, the color scheme of the General’s body matches that of the background, especially of the battle in the lower left. By the red of his coat, you can probably tell that the General was a member of the British army in the era of the American Revolution or during the colonization of America. This color matches the color of the blood in the background. The gray complexion of the General is also like the smoke and the sky in the background, but they are different shades. The gray used for the skin of Burgoyne has a slight pink coloration. After all, this man is human. The black lining of the General’s clothes also matches the color of the background people. This matching of the background and the General either tells us one of two things.
This could say to us that the General is, in his body, action personified. Within him contains the heat of battle, yet he holds this turmoil nobly, as a calm and relaxed figure. Another view could be that he is completely detached from the battle. Who in their right mind would stand like that, completely clean and well groomed, in the heat of battle? He is not participating in anything around him. This is arguable from both sides by the way that the General is standing.
The General is standing there engaging neither the violence that is occurring behind him nor the people that are and will be looking at his portrait. This is either a calm or collected person or an arrogant person. Maybe both. He cares nothing for anything around him. This may be a commentary on this man’s turbulent life.
“The knowledgeable world of London did not believe that the son born to Anna Maria Burgoyne on February 4, 1723, had been fathered by her husband, ex-Captain John Burgoyne, Sr.”(Mintz, 3). It was widely believed, actually, that a wealthy politician that had a baronage named Lord Bingley was actually the father. This information would have been known by Reynolds, in England at the time and considered a highly intellectual person whose art rivaled that of Gainsborough. He even helping to found the Literary club, which had many distinguished writers such as Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, and Samuel Johnson.
Why did people believe at the time that Lord Bingley actually fathered the child? There are a few reasons for that. “He was the owner of the row house in which the Burgoynes lived, in Park Prospect, a terrace at the southeast end of St. James’ Park. Anna Maria was lovely and charming. Bingley’s wife, whom he married for her money, was plain and unpleasant. He maintained a small residence in the street behind the Burgoynes, and he found Anna Maria a delight and a refuge from the gloom of his great house in Cavendish Square. For her sake he lent Captain Burgoyne, a compulsive gambler, a large sums and never demanded repayment. The day after the birth of her boy, named John, Bingley stood as godfather at the christening in nearby St. Margaret’s. When he died in 1731, he left Anna Maria an annuity of four hundred pounds, ownership of the row house, lease rent-free for life of an estate, “The Nunnery,” in Chestnut, and forgiveness of her husband’s debts. In the event of the deaths of his one legitimate daughter and another natural one without issue, young John Burgoyne was to become his residual heir.”(Mintz, 3). Personally, I don’t believe that anyone would be that kind to a woman and her child unless they felt guilty for something or was the father of the child. This would explain his composure and complexion.
Even through the family problem that was known by everyone, Burgoyne still went to school and participated in the comradery that exists between boys becoming men. As a man, he was an eager soldier, fighting in many of the wars between France and Britain that existed during that era. He was a fighter. Maybe this is why his eyes stare off into the distance and not onto anything that you can imagine or see. He is a man that has worked his way through family shame. He is now too proud. It feels as though he does not care at all about you, the viewer. On the other hand, Bertin stares right at you, right into you.
There is something very deep within Bertin’s eyes. You cannot directly into his eyes, even though it is a painting. His one eyebrow raised makes you feel like you are under the gaze of a principal in high school when you have done something wrong. The way that he is seated also gives you a very decisive feel about his solidity. Bertin is seated with his hands on his knees, making his body language seem very grounded. He isn’t a skinny man, either. He barely fits into his clothes let alone the chair. The rounded back of the mahogany chair also makes you believe he is larger than he really is.
Bertin may look very grounded and immobile, except his arms deter you from that feeling slightly. They are arched away from his body, fingers not heavily clasped onto his knees. It looks as though he is getting ready to get out of the seat. There still seems to be action within that bulky body.
Even though there are these dissimilarities, there are two aspect that unite both pieces. In composition, they have about the same diagonals. In the mentality of the painting, they are both strong men with two different battlefields, one fighting on grass and blood while the other fights on money and power.
In both paintings, the diagonals are there to lead you to the face. They even use the same instruments to form the diagonals, the arms. The only difference is the addition of the General’s sword leading you to notice the battle in the background. This diagonal goes coat/arm, face, arm, sword, and background. Bertin’s diagonal is the same as General Burgoyne’s, leading to the face. The fundamental difference in the paintings, however, is what happens to your eyes as soon as you hit the face.
In Burgoyne’s portrait, as soon as you soon his face, his eyes shoot you away to another place. You end up following where his eyes go, to nowhere. On the other hand, in Bertin’s portrait, once you get to the eyes, they stare right into you. Instead of shooting you away, they attack you directly. The other similarity is the mentality of both the paintings.
General Burgoyne fought in many different wars. He has killed men, ordered men to be killed, worked on through sweat and tears. This is the warrior. Bertin, though, would be considered the urban warrior.
Instead of killing in wars, this man has worked with his mind more then his body. He has deadlines, public relations, bills, and politicians. He fights for a new class of people, the middle class. They are both noble figures in their own right, one fighting for political freedom or repression and the other fighting for personal freedom and repression of the less fortunate.
Both of these paintings show a separate part of history. General Burgoyne was a man that lived during the mid 1700’s, when there was much upheaval due to new ideas such as physics and enlightenment. Bertin, on the other had, lived in the late 1700’s and early to mid 1800’s, a time when economy and the industrial revolution made warriors out of regular men just to survive everyday life. They are two different people with two different ideas being portrayed in their masterpieces.
Bird, Harrison. March to Saratoga. Oxford University Press. 1963
Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga. Yale University. 1990
Rosenblum, Robert. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Winks, Robin W. A History of Civilization. Prentice Hall. 1988