"This child will be the Napoleon of painting," Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres predicted about the prodigy who entered his studio at age eleven. Before he was seventeen, Théodore Chassériau won a third-class medal at the Salon. His early female nudes combined his characteristic sensuality with Ingres's idealizing style.
In 1840 Chassériau joined Ingres in Rome. Increasingly critical of the academic curriculum, Chassériau became interested in the Romantic art of Ingres's nemesis, Eugène Delacroix. As Chassériau recounted the break, "In a long conversation with M. Ingres, I saw that on many issues we could never have a meeting of minds." In response, Igres announced, "Never speak to me again of that child!"
Back in Paris, Chassériau undertook decorations for churches and other public buildings; most are now poorly preserved. Recalling the Italian Renaissance, Chassériau attempted to show great things like majesty and sublimity, dreaminess and melancholy. His decorations later influenced Gustave Moreau's Symbolist style.
In 1846 Chassériau followed in Delacroix's footsteps by traveling to Algeria, where he made detailed drawings on which he based his late Orientalist canvases. A prolific draftsman, Chassériau drew portraits in lead pencil, as had Ingres. He also made prints after his paintings and etchings illustrating Shakespeare's Othello.