Your Brain Loves Ingres

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The Small Bather, 1826. Oil on canvas. 12 7/8 x 9 7/8 in.

In an article from The Telegraph online, a recent study of brain activity shows that viewing works by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, John Constable, or Guido Reni, can have the same effect as “gazing at a loved one.” Ingres’s Small Bather certainly qualifies as a loved one for us.

Honoré Daumier. On a Bridge at Night, 1845–1848. Oil on wood panel. 10 3/4 x 8 5/8 in. Acquired 1922.

But we have to argue with the conclusion that paintings by Honoré Daumier are “ugly” as indicated by comparatively low blood flow registered by viewers. The drama, tenderness, and satire found in many of his works makes him no less loved here than the graceful Ingres.

The professor who conducted the experiment summed up his findings thusly: “What we are doing is giving scientific truth to what has been known for a long time—that beautiful paintings makes us feel much better.”