Monday, February 23, 2009


Oil on canvas
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Self Portrait
Oil on canvas, 1794
Musée du Louvre, Paris
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jacques-Louis David (30 August 1748 – 29 December 1825) was a highly influential French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era.
Jacques-Louis David was born into a prosperous family in Paris. When he was about nine his father was killed in a duel and his mother left him with his prosperous architect uncles. They saw to it that he received an excellent education at the Collège des Quatre-Nations, but he was never a good student: he had a facial tumor that impeded his speech, and he was always preoccupied with drawing. He covered his notebooks with drawings, and he once said, "I was always hiding behind the instructor’s chair, drawing for the duration of the class". Soon, he desired to be a painter, but his uncles and mother wanted him to be an architect. He overcame the opposition, and went to learn from François Boucher, the leading painter of the time, who was also a distant relative.
Boucher decided that instead of taking over David’s tutelage, he would send David to his friend Joseph-Marie Vien, painter who embraced the classical reaction to Rococo. There David attended the Royal Academy, based in what is now the Louvre.
David attempted to win the Prix de Rome, an art scholarship to the French Academy in Rome, four times between 1770 and 1774; once, he lost according to legend because he had not consulted Vien, one of the judges. Another time, he lost because a few other students had been competing for years, and Vien felt David's education could wait for these other mediocre painters. In protest, he attempted to starve himself to death. Finally, in 1774, David won the Prix de Rome. , he would have had to attend another school before attending the Academy in Rome, but Vien's influence kept him out of it. He went to Italy with Vien in 1775, as Vien had been appointed director of the French Academy at Rome. While in Italy, David observed the Italian masterpieces and the ruins of ancient Rome. David filled twelve sketchbooks with material that he would derive from for the rest of his life. He met the influential early neoclassical painter Raphael Mengs and through Mengs was introduced to the pathbreaking theories of art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. While in Rome, he studied great masters, and came to favor above all others Raphael. In 1779, David was able to see the ruins of Pompeii, and was filled with wonder. After this, he sought to revolutionize the art world with the "eternal" concepts of classicism.
David's fellow students at the academy found him difficult to get along with, but they recognized his genius. David was allowed to stay at the French Academy in Rome for an extra year, but after 5 years in Rome, he returned to Paris. There, he found people ready to use their influence for him, and he was made a member of the Royal Academy. He sent the Academy two paintings, and both were included in the Salon of 1781, a high honor. He was praised by his famous contemporary painters, but the administration of the Royal Academy was very hostile to this young upstart. After the Salon, the King granted David lodging in the Louvre, an ancient and much desired privilege of great artists. When the contractor of the King's buildings, M. Pecol, was arranging with David, he asked the artist to marry his daughter, Marguerite Charlotte. This marriage brought him money and eventually four children. David had his own pupils, about 40 to 50, and was commissioned by the government to paint "Horace defended by his Father", but Jacques soon decided, "Only in Rome can I paint Romans." His father in law provided the money he needed for the trip, and David headed for Rome with his wife and three of his students, one of whom, Jean-Germain Drouais, was the Prix de Rome winner of that year.

The Oath of the Horatii
Year 1784
Oil on canvas
Louvre Paris, France
Source Web Gallery of Art
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In Rome, David painted his famous Oath of the Horatii, 1784. In this piece, the artist references Enlightenment values while alluding to Rousseau’s social contract. The republican ideal of the general will becomes the focus of the painting with all three sons positioned in compliance with the father. The Oath between the characters can be read as an act of unification of men to the binding of the state. The issue of gender roles also becomes apparent in this piece, as the women in Horatii greatly contrast the group of brothers. David depicts the father with his back to the women, shutting them out of the oath making ritual; they also appear to be smaller in scale than the male figures. The masculine virility and discipline displayed by the men’s rigid and confident stances is also severely contrasted to the slouching, swooning female softness created in the other half of the composition. Here we see the clear division of male-female attributes which confined the sexes to specific roles, under Rousseau’s popular doctrines.

Tennis Court Oath
Year 1791
Musée national du Château de Versailles Versailles, France
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

After executing the King, war broke out between the new Republic and virtually every major power in Europe. David, as a member of the Committee of Public Safety, which was headed by Robespierre, contributed directly to the reign of Terror. The committee was severe. Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine; an event recorded in a famous sketch by David. Portable guillotines killed failed generals, aristocrats, priests and perceived enemies. David organized his last festival: the festival of the Supreme Being.
These themes and motifs would carry on into his later works Oath of the Tennis Court,1791. This piece, although remaining unfinished, was to commemorate the National Assembly’s resolve to take a solemn oath never to disband until the constitution was established and protected; the commitment to self-sacrifice for the republic. Commissioned by the Society of Friends of the Constitution, David set out in 1790, to transform the contemporary event into a major historical picture, which would appear at the Salon of 1791 as a large pen and ink drawing. As in the Oath of the Horatii, David represents the unity of men in the service of a patriotic ideal. What was essentially an act of intellect and reason, David creates with great drama in this work. The very power of the people appears to be “blowing” through the scene with the stormy weather, in a sense alluding to the storm that would be the revolution.

A study for The Distribution of the Eagle Standards
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Distribution of the Eagle Standards is an 1810 painting by Jacques-Louis David depicting a ceremony arranged by Napoleon after his assumption of power as emperor. In it he sought to revive the military ethos of the Roman empire. However, the ceremony, and the painting that commemorated it, also provided an important model for the use of the Roman salute and its revival at public ceremonies organised by fascists and the Nazis during the 20th century.
The event took place on December 5, 1804, three days after his coronation. Napoleon distributed standards based on the "eagles" of the legions of Rome. The standards represented the regiments raised by the various Departments of France, and were intended to institute feelings of pride and loyalty among the troops who would be the backbone of Napoleon's new regime. Napoleon gave an emotional speech in which he insisted that troops should defend the standards with their lives.
In early sketches of the painting David included a winged figure of Nike,floating over the troops, but Napoleon objected to such an unrealistic feature. He also insisted that his wife Josephine be removed from the composition. He was preparing to divorce her, since she had failed to provide his heir.
The final painting depicted the moment when Napoleon blessed the standards being held out towards him. Napoleon has his arm raised in imitation of ancient "adlocutio" scenes, which depict Classical heroes addressing troops. David's composition was heavily influenced by the friezes on Trajan's column

Le Serment de l'armée fait à l'Empereur
Versailles, musée national du chateau
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In 1787, David did not become the Director of the French Academy in Rome, which was a position he wanted dearly. The Count in charge of the appointments said David was too young, but said he would support him in 6 to 12 years. This situation would be one of many that would cause him to lash out at the Academy in years to come.

The Death of Socrates
Oil on canvas, 1787
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For the salon of 1787, David exhibited his famous Death of Socrates. "Condemned to death, Socrates, strong, calm and at peace, discusses the immortality of the soul. Surrounded by Crito, his grieving friends and students, he is teaching, philosophizing for the hemlock brew which will ensure a peaceful death... The wife of Socrates can be seen grieving alone outside the chamber, dismissed for her weakness. Plato is depicted as an old man seated at the end of the bed." Critics compared the Socrates with Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling and Raphael's Stanze, and one, after ten visits to the Salon, described it as "in every sense perfect". Denis Diderot said it looked like he copied it from some ancient bas-relief. The painting was very much in tune with the political climate at the time. For this painting, David was not honored by a royal "works of encouragement".

The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons
Year Paris 1789
Oil on canvas
Musée du Louvre
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For his next painting, David created The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons. The work had tremendous appeal for the time. Before the opening of the Salon, the French Revolution had begun. The National Assembly had been established, and the Bastille had fallen. The royal court did not want propaganda agitating the people, so all paintings had to be checked before being hung.

Portrait of Monsieur de Lavoisier
and his Wife, chemist Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze
Oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art New York
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife is a double portrait of the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier and his wife and collaborator Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, commissioned from the French painter Jacques-Louis David in 1788 by Marie-Anne (who had been taught drawing by David). It is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
David was paid 7,000 livres for it on 16 December 1788 and the painting was left by Marie-Anne to her great-niece in 1836. It remained in the collection of the comtesse de Chazelles and her descendents until 1924, when it was bought by John Davison Rockefeller. Rockefeller gave it to the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in 1927, and it was acquired from this institution by the Metropolitan Museum in 1977.
It shows the couple in his office, with a wood-panelled floor and walls of false marble with three classical pilasters. In the centre the couple face the viewer, with both their heads in three-quarters profile. Marie-Anne is shown standing in profile looking at the viewer. Her costume is that in fashion at the end of the 18th century - a white wig, a white dress with a lace collar and a blue fabric belt. She rests on her husband's shoudlder, with her right hand leaning on the table.
Antoine Lavoisier is seated, wearing a black vest, culottes, stockings and buckled shoes, a white shirt, a white neckscarf and a powdered wig. His face turns towards his wife and he rests his left arm on the table, whilst writing with his right hand using a feather pen. The table is covered with a scarlet tablecloth, many papers, a casket, an inkwell with two more feather pens, a barometer, a gasometer, a water still and a glass bell jar. A large round-bottom flask and a tap are on the floor to the right, by the table. To the table's extreme left is a chair with a large document-case and black cloth on it.
The signature is bottom left, on the table - L DAVID, PARISIIS ANNO, 1788.
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

The Death of Marat
Oil on canvas
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
© Web Gallery of Art
created by Emil Kren and Daniel Marx

The Death of Marat can be regarded as David's finest work, in which he has perfectly succeeded in immortalizing a contemporary political event as an image of social ideals. David's painting of Marat represents the peak of his involvement in the Revolution where invention, style, fervent belief and devotion combine to produce one of the most perfect examples of political painting. David presented the painting to the Convention on 14 November 1793.
Jean-Paul Marat saw himself as a friend of the people, he was a doctor of medicine and a physicist, and above all he was editor of the news-sheet Ami du peuple. He suffered from a skin disease and had to perform his business for the revolution in a soothing bath. This is where David shows him, in the moment after the pernicious murder by Charlotte Corday, a supporter of the aristocracy. David had seen his fellow party member and friend the day before. Under the impact of their personal friendship David created his painting "as if in a trance," as one of his pupils later reported.
David takes the viewer into Marat's private room, making him the witness of the moments immediately after the murder. Marat's head and arm have sunk down, but the dead hand still holds pen and paper. This snapshot of exactly the minute between the last breath and death in the bathroom had an immense impact at the time, and it still has the same effect today.
David has used a dark, immeasurable background to intensify the significance. The boldness of the high half of the room above the figure concentrates attention on the lowered head, and makes us all the more aware of the vacuum that has been created. The distribution of light here has been reversed from the usual practice, with dark above light. This is not only one of the most moving paintings of the time, but David has also created a secularised image of martyrdom. The painting has often, and rightly, been compared with Michelangelo's Pietà in Rome; in both the most striking element is the arm hanging down lifeless. Revolutionary as the painting of this period claimed to be, it is evident here that it very often had recourse to the iconography and pictorial vocabulary of the religious art of the past.
(© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Kren and Daniel Marx)
Despite the haste in which the portrait of Marat was painted (the work was completed and presented to the National Convention less than four months after Marat's death), it is generally considered to be David's best work, a definite step towards modernity, an inspired (and inspiring) political statement. At the time of its creation, all contemporary sources clearly indicate that the painting was not to be dissociated, neither in its exhibition nor in its evaluation, from The Death of Lepelletier, the two functioning as a pair if not properly as a "diptych". Till David's death in 1825, it remained so, the two paintings sharing the same fate from success to oblivion. The unfortunate disappearance of The Death of Lepelletier does not allow us today to watch The Death of Marat the way David had planned it.
After executing the King, war broke out between the new French Republic and virtually every major power in Europe. David, as a member of the Committee of Public Safety, which was headed by Robespierre, contributed directly to the reign of Terror. The committee was severe. Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine; an event recorded in a famous sketch by David. Portable guillotines killed failed generals, aristocrats, priests and perceived enemies. Soon, the war began to go well; French troops marched across the southern half of the Netherlands (which would later become Belgium), and the emergency that had placed the Committee of Public Safety in control was no more. Then plotters seized Robespierre at the National Convention and he was later guillotined, in effect ending the reign of terror. David was arrested and placed in prison. There he painted his own portrait, showing him much younger than he actually was, as well as that of his jailer. After David’s wife visited him in jail, he conceived the idea of telling the story of the Sabine Women. The Sabine Women Enforcing Peace by Running between the Combatants, also called The Intervention of the Sabine Women is said to have been painted to honor his wife, with the theme being love prevailing over conflict. The painting was also seen as a plea for the people to reunite after the bloodshed of the revolution. This work also brought him to the attention of Napoleon.
When he was finally released to the country, France had changed. His wife managed to get David released from prison, and he wrote letters to his former wife, and told her he never ceased loving her. He remarried her in 1796. Finally, wholly restored to his position, he retreated to his studio, took pupils and retired from politics.
In one of history's great coincidences, David's close association with the Committee of Public Safety during the Terror resulted in his signing of the death warrant for one Alexandre de Beauharnais, a minor noble. De Beauharnais's widow, Rose-Marie Josèphe de Tascher de Beauharnais would later be known to the world as Joséphine Bonaparte, Empress of the French. It was her coronation by her husband, Napoleon I, that David depicted so memorably in the Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, 2 December 1804.

Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I
and Coronation of the Empress Josephine
Oil on canvas
Musée du Louvre, Paris

After Napoleon's successful coup d'etat in 1799, as First Consul he commissioned David to commemorate his daring crossing of the Alps. The crossing of the St. Bernard Pass had allowed the French to surprise the Austrian army and win victory at the Battle of Marengo on 14 June 1800. Although Napoleon had crossed the Alps on a mule, he requested that he be portrayed "calm upon a fiery steed". David complied with Napoleon Crossing the Saint-Bernard. After the proclamation of the Empire in 1804, David became the official court painter of the regime.

Napoleon at the St. Bernard Pass
Oil on canvas
Museum of Art History, Vienna

After the fall of Napoleon and the Bourbon monarchy restoration David was banished in 1816 as a regicide, and fled to Brussels, where he spent his last 10 years. During this period he returned to mythological subjects and intimate portraiture. He had a huge number of pupils, and his influence was felt (both positively and negatively) by the majority of French 19th-century painters. He was a revolutionary artist in both a technical and a political sense. His compositional innovations effected a complete rupture with Rococo fantasy; he is considered the greatest single figure in European painting between the late Rococo and the Romantic era. David died on 29 December 1825.
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

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