In portrait painting Ingres surpassed all his contemporaries. He could combine realistic exactitude with psychological insight, but still remain the sober observer, not involved in the inner life of his subjects. He could paint old men with the same supreme ease as young princesses, and capture the critical eyes of fellow painters as exactly as the dignity of political office, as in the portrait of Louis-Franзois Bertin (1766-1841), one of the leading personalities between the July monarchy and the Second Empire. He established the Journal des Débats which supported the policy of Louis-Philippe. Louis-Francois was a patron and friend of the artist, he thus accepted the commission of the portrait, as he rather painted historical paintings, as a favor to his acquaintance. Ingres’ impatience with the portrait got the best of him a number of times, when he broke down in tears at not being able to find a suitable pose for the old man. Bertin, the patron himself, would have to soothe the artist, until he was able to paint him again. Ingres was finally able to finish the portrait when he came across Bertin sitting at an outside café in the exact pose, after which he easily completed the portrait. This portrait was the first of Ingres’ paintings that was widely well-received. Although some critics decried its drab coloring and naturalism vulgar, the public was spellbound.
As a portrait painter, Ingres has often been compared to Holbein, and in portraiture particularly the severity of line and exactitude of detail so typical of Neoclassicism often lend the subject a touch of special historical dignity.