“All artists borrow from each other, great artists steal,” said Picasso, who was clearly so taken by the sumptuous Ingres portrait of Madame Moitessier that he ‘stole’ it by closely referencing it in his affectionate portrait of his lover Marie-Therese Walter who strikes the same thoughtful pose. Both paintings are on show, side by side for the first time, at the National Gallery, London.

You get almost a visceral hit when entering Gallery 46 at the National Gallery and encountering two utterly stunning portraits placed side by side in the space. Your eye is initially drawn to the hot, bold and striking colours used by Picasso and then you slide to the left and are seduced by the gorgeous, smooth porcelain skin created by Ingres along with a bravura depiction of sumptuous floral silk fabric and a rich interior.

It was fascinating to hear that the pose Ingres chose was, itself, ‘stolen’ from a painting found on the walls of the buried Roman city of Herculaneum depicting the Roman goddess Arcadia with her right hand placed near her face, her finger to her head representing intelligence, thoughtfulness and education. That image, in turn, can be found in even older images from Greek civilisation. Artists do indeed ‘borrow and steal’ and have done for millennia.

Where Madame Moitessier is holding a fan, Marie-Therese is holding a book. They are both seated in comfortable chairs or chaise-longue and the background is dark. Apparently Ingres took many years to complete his portrait and, at one stage, changed the fabric of the dress from yellow to the gorgeous floral design which was the fashion of the day. Picasso’s portrait oozes speed and urgency and the brush strokes and thickly layered paint gives the piece tremendous drama and appeal.

It’s great to see the two pictures side by side. It’s the ultimate artistic compare and contrast.

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