jean-auguste-dominique ingres la grande odalisque 1814 91cm x 162cm.
Ingres portrays a concubine in languid pose as seen from behind with distorted proportions. The small head, elongated limbs, and cool color scheme all reveal influences from Mannerists such as Parmigianino,  whose Madonna with the Long Neck was also famous for anatomical distortion.
La Grande Odalisque was appropriated by the feminist art group Guerrilla Girls for their first color poster and most iconic image. The 1989 Metropolitan Museum poster gave Ingres’s odalisque a gorilla mask and posed the question “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”. The poster used data from the group’s first “weenie count” and drew attention to the overwhelming number of female nudes counted in the Modern Art sections of The Met. The poster was rejected by the Public Art Fund in New York and was run in advertising space on New York City buses until the bus company cancelled the lease arguing that the image was “too suggestive and that the figure appeared to have more than a fan in her hand.”  
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Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was a French neoclassical artist, best known for his portraits. Born in Paris, Ingres studied with Jacques Louis David, France’s most famous artist during the period of the French Revolution, and a devoted follower of the High Renaissance painter Raphael. Ingres was one of only five artists to be selected by Napoleon to paint full sized portraits of him and his family. Ingres went to work in Rome and Florence and was very pleased with the paintings that he completed whilst in Italy. Ingres’ Paris Exhibitions were highly praised and he became both famous and popular. Dominique Ingres is acknowledged by Picasso, Degas and Matisse as having great influence on their work.
This woman lying on a divan is offering herself because she is nude and turns her face towards us. The painting’s title, which means “harem woman,” and the accessories around her conjure up the sensuous Orient. But the woman is also discreet because she shows only her back and part of one breast. The nude was a major theme in Western art, but since the Renaissance figures portrayed in that way had been drawn from mythology; here Ingres transposed the theme to a distant land. The subject of the odalisque fascinated Boucher in the eighteenth century and was later chosen as a theme by Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856), one of Ingres’s pupils. Throughout his career, many of Ingres’s works feature Orientalist themes, such as The Turkish Bath (Louvre), which he painted towards the end of his life. The female nude, historical scenes, and the portrait were Ingres’s favorite genres.
© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
Grande Odalisque, also known as Une Odalisque or La Grande Odalisque, is an oil painting of 1814 by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres depicting an odalisque, or concubine. Ingres’ contemporaries considered the work to signify Ingres’ break from Neoclassicism, indicating a shift toward exotic Romanticism.
Stemming from the initial criticism the painting received, the figure in Grande Odalisque is thought to be drawn with “two or three vertebrae too many.” Critics at the time believed the elongations to be errors on the part of Ingres, but recent studies show the elongations to have been deliberate. Measurements taken on the proportions of real women showed that Ingres’s figure was drawn with a curvature of the spine and rotation of the pelvis impossible to replicate. It also showed the left arm of the odalisque is shorter than the right. The study concluded that the figure was longer by five instead of two or three vertebrae and that the excess affected the lengths of the pelvis and lower back instead of merely the lumbar region.
In the mind of an early 19th century French male viewer, the sort of person for whom this image was made, the odalisque would have conjured up not just a harem slave, itself a misconception, but a set of fears and desires linked to the long history of aggression between Christian Europe and Islamic Asia. Indeed, Ingres’ porcelain sexuality is made acceptable even to an increasingly prudish French culture because of the subject’s distance.
It would be easy to characterize Ingres as a consistent defender of the Neo-Classical style from his time in David’s studio into the middle of the 19th century. Remember that the Apotheosis of Homer dates to 1827. But the truth is more interesting than that.