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Jacques Louis DAVID Biography and Painting



David Jacques Louis

David Jacques Louis

(1748-1825),

French



Jacques-Louis David

David, Jacques-Louis (1748-1825), French painter, who introduced the neoclassical style in France (Neoclassical Art and Architecture). He was its leading exemplar from the time of the French Revolution (1789-1799) to the fall of the French emperor Napoleon I in 1815.

. Early Years

David was born into a prosperous middle-class family in Paris and studied at the Académie Royale under the painter Joseph-Marie Vien. Vien aroused in the young David an enthusiasm for classical antiquity and for the 17th-century French painter Nicolas Poussin, in opposition to the prevailing rococo style. David won the Prix de Rome in 1774, and on the ensuing trip to Italy he was strongly influenced by classical art and by the classically inspired work of Poussin.


David quickly evolved his own individual neoclassical style, drawing subject matter from ancient sources and basing form and gesture on Roman sculpture. His famous Oath of the Horatii (1784-1785, Louvre, Paris) was consciously intended as a proclamation of the new neoclassical style in which dramatic lighting, ideal forms, and clarity of gesture are emphasized. Presenting a lofty moralistic (and by implication patriotic) theme, the work became the principal model for noble and heroic historical painting of the next two decades.

. Revolutionary

After 1789 David adopted a realistic rather than neoclassical style in order to record contemporary scenes of the French Revolution, as in the dramatic death scenes of revolutionary heroes such as Jean-Paul Marat. David’s Death of Marat (1793, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels) depicts Marat slumped over in a bathtub immediately after his assassination.

Like many supporters of the revolution, David hailed Napoleon as an incarnation of the revolutionary spirit. From 1799 to 1815 David was Napoleon’s official painter, chronicling the emperor’s reign in huge works such as Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine (1805-1807, Louvre). Following Napoleon’s downfall, David was exiled to Brussels, where he stayed until his death. In these later years, he returned to mythological subjects drawn from the Greek and Roman past, painted in a more theatrical manner.

. Portrait Painter

David, throughout his career, was also a prolific portraitist. Smaller in scale and more intimately human than his larger works, his portraits, such as the famous Madame Récamier (1800, Louvre), show great technical mastery and understanding of character. Many modern critics consider them his best work, especially because they are free from the moralizing messages and sometimes stilted technique of his neoclassical works.

David’s career represents the transition from the rococo of the 18th century to the realism of the 19th. His cool, studied neoclassicism strongly influenced his pupils Antoine-Jean Gros and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and his patriotic and heroic themes paved the way for the romantics (Romanticism).



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