Jacques-Louis David

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Related to Jacques-Louis David: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Antonio Canova

David, Jacques-Louis

(zhäk-lwē` dävēd`), 1748–1825, French painter. David was the virtual art dictator of France for a generation. Extending beyond painting, his influence determined the course of fashion, furniture design, and interior decoration and was reflected in the development of moral philosophy. His art was a sudden and decisive break with tradition, and from this break "modern art" is dated.

David studied with VienVien, Joseph-Marie
, 1716–1809, French neoclassical painter. A protégé of the comte de Caylus, he won the Prix de Rome and studied in Italy. He was appointed director of the French Academy in Rome in 1775. He is best known as Jacques-Louis David's teacher.
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 at the French Academy, and after winning the Prix de Rome (which had been refused him four times, causing him to attempt suicide by starvation) he accompanied Vien to Italy in 1775. His pursuit of the antique, nurtured by his time in Rome and his viewing of the ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum, directed the classical revival in French art. He borrowed classical forms and motifs, predominantly from sculpture, to illustrate a sense of virtue he mistakenly attributed to the ancient Romans. Consumed by a desire for perfection and by a passion for the political ideals of the French Revolution, David imposed a fierce discipline on the expression of sentiment in his work. This inhibition resulted in a distinct coldness and rationalism of approach.

David's reputation was made by the Salon of 1784. In that year he produced his first masterwork, The Oath of the Horatii (Louvre). This work and his celebrated Death of Socrates (1787; Metropolitan Mus.) as well as Lictors Bringing to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons (1789; Louvre) were themes appropriate to the political climate of the time. They secured for David vast popularity and success. David was admitted to the Académie royale in 1780 and worked as court painter to the king.

As a powerful republican David, upon being elected to the revolutionary Convention, voted for the king's death and for the dissolution of the Académie royale both in France and in Rome. In his paintings of the Revolution's martyrs, especially in his Marat (1793; Brussels), his iron control is softened and the tragic portraits are moving and dignified. The artist was imprisoned for a time at the end of the Reign of Terror.

David emerged to become First Painter to the emperor and foremost recorder of Napoleonic events (e.g., Napoleon Crossing the Saint Bernard Pass, 1800–01; Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, 1805–07; and The Distribution of the Eagles, 1810) and a sensitive portraitist (e.g., Mme Récamier, 1800; Louvre). In this period David reached the height of his influence, but his painting, more than ever the embodiment of neoclassical theory, was again static and deadened in feeling. The Battle of the Romans and Sabines (1799; Louvre) portrayed the battle through the use of physically frozen figures.

During the Bourbon Restoration David spent his last years in Brussels, where he painted a masterful series of portraits, mainly of fellow refugees from the Napoleonic court. Although he belittled the genre, it was as a portraitist that he was at his most distinguished. Using living, rather than sculptured models, he allowed his spontaneous sentiment to be revealed in the closely observed portrayals. These last portraits, such as Antoine Mongez and His Wife Angelica (1812; Lille), Bernard (1820; Louvre), and Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte (1821; Getty Mus.) are enormously vital and in them the seeds of the new romanticism are clearly discernible.


See D. L. Dowd, Pageant-Master of the Republic (1948); J. Lindsay, Death of the Hero (1960); W. Roberts, Jacques Louis David, Revolutionary Artist (1989).

References in periodicals archive ?
With Napoleon is the famous painter Jacques-Louis David, who has the responsibility of "selling" Napoleon to the people as a visionary leader, a conqueror.
After the death of his father in 1784, he became a student of Jacques-Louis David who, before the Revolution, reinvigorated French painting and established the rules of Neoclassicism.
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Jacques-Louis David, commissioned to produce his colossal painting of the ceremony, had intended to depict the moment when Napoleon crowned himself, but with the Emperor's approval he chose instead to show him crowning Josephine as she knelt dutifully before him.
GREAT ARTISTS WITH TIM MARLOW:The art historian explores the life and career of French painter Jacques-Louis David.
I was always hiding behind the instructor's chair, drawing for the duration of the class," admitted Jacques-Louis David, acknowledging his early artistic bent (1).
In Washington today, there's no such panache, no Jacques-Louis David limning Bush in imperial drapery and resplendent crown (though surely Josephine's heart beats beneath Laura's delicious bosom).
The idea of writing such a book struck the author when he was looking at a picture by the French artist Jacques-Louis David in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
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My argument involves a close examination of a particular painting, La mort de Marat (The Death of Marat) by the French painter Jacques-Louis David.