David was a painter of enormous influence in neoclassical style. He sought inspiration in Greek sculptural and mythological models that emphasized austerity and severity, which was in keeping with the moral climate of the last years of the ancien régime.
David later became a major supporter of the French Revolution, as well as a friend of Maximilien de Robespierre; he was actually the leader of France's arts scene. After Robespierre's fall from power, he aligned himself with the arrival of another political regime, that of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was during this time that he developed his style known as the 'Empire Style', which used warm colors in the Venetian style.
The Early years
On August 30, 1748, Jacques-Louis David was born into a prosperous family in Paris. His father was killed in a duel at age 9, and his mother left him in the care of Francois Buron and Jacques-François Desmaisons, who were prosperous architects. He received an excellent education at the College of the Four Nations, but Jacques-Louis David was never a good student he spent class time drawing. His mother and uncles wanted him to be an architect, but he declared at a young age that he wanted to be a painter.
David overcame his relatives’ misgivings and went to the workshop of François Boucher, a leading figure of the time as well as a distant relative, to apprentice himself as a painter. Initially Boucher was into Rococo, but later he painted in a classical manner. Instead of personally teaching David, Boucher decided to put him under the tutelage of his friend Joseph-Marie Vien, who had adopted classical tastes as opposed to the prevailing rococo style. David attended the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture when it was located inside what is now the Louvre.
David made four attempts between 1770 and 1774 to win the Prix de Rome, which would have granted him a scholarship for a four-year stay at the French Academy in Rome. It is said that she lost it because she had not consulted Vien, one of the judges who awarded the prize. Because some of the students had been competing for many years, Vien thought that David's education could wait, but not those other painters. In the fifth attempt, David W won a battle against starvation. In protest of bad working conditions, he went on a hunger strike in 1774. In 1775 David was appointed to the Académie de France in Rome, when Vien was appointed Director there.
Once David was in Italy, he was able to effectively study the masterpieces and ruins of ancient Rome. David filled many notebooks with many materials that he would later use for the rest of his life. He met with the classical painter Raphael Mengs, who had a strong influence on neoclassical painters. It was through him that he was introduced to the pioneering theories of art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. While staying in Rome, he studied the great masters, his favorite being Raphael. In 1779, David visited the ruins of Pompeii, where he was impressed by sculptor François Marie Suzanne.
The Early works
David's peers at the Academy were often baffled by his ideas, but respected him for his insight. David was refused an extension for his stay at the French Academy in Rome, but after five years in Rome, David returned to Paris. There, he won the favor of an influential person, and he was made a member of the Royal Academy. In 1781, he sent two paintings to the Royal Academy. Both were included in the Salon, a great honor. Contemporary painters were friendly toward him, but the administration of the Royal Academy disliked this rising star.
The king authorized him to stay at the Louvre after he had his hair cut. When the King's contractor M. Pecol was negotiating with David, he offered to marry his daughter Marguerite Charlotte. David's wife provided him with money and, eventually, four children. David had his own students as well as students who were not his. He was commissioned by the government to paint a picture of Horace, but he decided that he could only paint a true Roman in Rome. His father-in-law gave him the money he needed for the trip, and David left with his wife and three of his students. One of these students, Jean-Germain Drouais, won the Rome Prize in 1775. David lived in Rome and painted an image called "The Oath of the Horatii," and it became famous and he used the same elements in other paintings, such as "The Oath of the Ball Game" and "The Distribution of The Eagles."
David did not become the director of the French Academy in Rome, a position he desired. After he said that David was too young , the earl in charge of the appointment stated that he would support him in 6 to 12 years. Lashing out at the Academy was something he did in future years because many situations caused him to do so.
For the 1787 Salon, David exhibited his famous painting Death of Socrates. Socrates, condemned to death, remained strong and calm as he discussed the immortality of the soul. Surrounded by his followers, he is teaching, philosophizing, and indeed, thanking the God of Health, Asclepius, for the infusion of hemlock that would ensure him a peaceful death. Socrates' wife is alone and crying outside the room and is dismissed because of her weakness. The philosopher Plato is depicted as an old man sitting at the end of the bed. Socrates was compared to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel vault and Raphael's Stanze, and one said that after ten visits to the Salon, it was "perfect in every way." Denis Diderot commented that it appeared he had copied the bas-relief from some ancient political climate of the time. It was very much of its time.
After executing his previous painting, David painted The lictors carry the bodies of their children to Brutus. The work was very attractive for the time. The French Revolution had begun before the Salon opened. The National Assembly had been established and the Bastille had been stormed by an angry mob. The royal court did not want propaganda to cause unrest, so the works were first reviewed before they were hung. Banned were some portraits of famous people, like that of a chemist who happened to be a member of an out-of-favor party. When the country's newspapers reported that the government had not allowed the show Lictors Bring Their Children To Brutus, the people were angered, and the royalists gave in. A painting was hung in the exhibition with art students protecting it. The painting is of Lucius Junius Brutus, a Roman leader, lamenting over his children. Brutus' fictional sons had tried to kill him in order to restore the monarchy, so Brutus killed them in order to maintain the republic. So, Brutus saved the Roman Republic, even if it cost him his family. The mother and her daughters are seen on the far right, and the grandmother, dressed in black and holding a basket of laundry, looks to be in mourning. Brutus is melancholy and sits alone, but he knows that what he has done is the best thing for his country. There are two main ideas here. One is that the painting, which was created at this time, had immense significance. The other is that it was a republican symbol.
The French Revolution
Initially, David was a supporter of the Revolution, being friends with Robespierre and a member of the Jacobin club. While others were leaving France in search of new and better opportunities, David stayed to help destroy the old order; he voted in the National Assembly in favor of the execution of Louis XVI. It is unclear why he did so, as there were more opportunities for him under a king than under the new order; some suggest that David's love of the Greeks led him to embrace everything Greek, including a democratic government.
The key to the artist's revolutionary career lies in his personality. Undoubtedly, David's artistic sensitivity, fickle temperament, volatile emotions, fiery enthusiasm and fierce independence would help him to turn against the established order, but his devotion to the republican regime cannot be fully explained by these factors. What we need to consider is whether Ben Franklin's political activities were revolutionary in nature, and whether these activities justify his revolutionary status. Those who knew him maintain that it was his high idealism and benevolent, if often fanatical, enthusiasm that motivated his activities during this period.
Soon, David started complaining to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. This attack was probably caused primarily by the hypocrisy of the organization, which had earlier opposed David's work, and personal feelings of the leader of the organization. Although some people belonged to the Royal Academy, they were all royalists, and David's attempt to reform the Academy was not well received. The members of the Academy were biased towards royalty and against reform, and David's attempt to make it less biased did not sit well with the members.
When David was hired to write propaganda for the new republic, he began doing so. He was paid to write it; then he wrote it; and then he was haunted by what he had written. David's painting of Brutus was shown during the drama 'Brutus', which used Voltaire's script. The public responded to the king with an uproar of disapproval. The Oath of the Ball Game was a symbol of the first act of rebellion against the king. Revolutionaries whose meetings had taken place in the Jacobin monastery now wanted to see their progress depicted in a painting. Because they believed that David, whose genius they considered to have foreshadowed the revolution, was the right choice for the job. David agreed to paint an immense canvas, but the commission was never completed because of its size and because some of the subjects disappeared during the reign of the Terror. Some finished drawings survive, showing nude figures with only the heads painted.
When Voltaire died, the ecclesiastical funeral denied him and buried in a monastery. A year later, his old friends began a campaign to get his body buried in the Pantheon, since ecclesiastical property had been confiscated by the French government. In 1791, David was appointed to chair the organizing committee for the ceremony. The parade through the streets of Paris to the Pantheon was held despite rain and opposition from conservatives based on the amount of money to be spent on the event. David organized many parties for the republic. The first party was when they buried the "Father of the Revolution." He organized celebrations for the martyrs who died fighting the royalists. These funerals were reminiscent of the pagan festivals of the Greeks and Romans, and many saw them as Saturnalia.
In 1791, the king attempted to flee the country by traveling less than 50 km away. However, having made it only that far from the Austrian border, he was arrested. Louis XVI had petitioned Joseph II, Marie Antoinette's brother, secretly to restore Louis to his throne. This was granted, and if Louis were injured, Austria threatened France with war. After the king arrested the leaders of the revolution, this led to the people arresting the king. When the new National Convention had its first meeting, David was sitting with his friends Jean-Paul Marat and Robespierre. As soon as David got to the conference, he started to argue with other people. Robespierre demanded that the king be executed. The National Convention voted for the king's execution. David divorced his wife because she was a royalist.
On the same day that Lous XVI was executed, another man had already died. The day before he was assassinated, Le Peletier voted in favor of the King's death. David was in charge of organizing the funeral, and painted a picture of Le Peletier's assassination. In the painting, the assassin's sword is seen hanging by a single strand of horsehair over Le Pelletier's body, a concept inspired by the idea that those who wield power are subject to destruction. This sentence highlights Le Peletier's courage in the face of the oppressive king. The sword pierces a piece of paper on which is written "I vote the death of the tyrant", and as a tribute, David wrote at the bottom of his painting "David to Le Peletier. January 20, 1793". Le Peletier's realist daughter later destroyed the painting, and it is known only from a contemporary description, an engraving, and a drawing. Nevertheless, this work was important in David's career because it was his first finished painting of the French Revolution, done in less than three months; furthermore, by initiating the process of regeneration he would continue with The Death of Marat.
Marat, a journalist and revolutionary parliamentarian, was killed by Charlotte Corday. David organized another spectacular funeral, and Marat was buried in the Pantheon. David had wanted his body to be immersed in the bathtub during the funeral procession, but the body had begun to putrefy. People who saw Marat's corpse were impressed with how many wounds he had. David quickly captured the scene in his notebook, sketching out the figure of Marat on his deathbed. He was able to do so because he had spent so much time studying anatomy at the Louvre.
After the execution of the king, France was at war with virtually every great power in Europe, and the wars in which France had to fight went very badly. The committee was led by Robespierre. The committee was severe: Marie Antoinette was condemned to the guillotine, an event recorded in a famous drawing by David. The committee was led by Robespierre. The committee was severe: Marie Antoinette was condemned to the guillotine, an event recorded in a famous drawing by David. During the reign of the Terror, David organized his last festival. It was for the Supreme Being. Robespierre realized that the revolutionary demonstrations were an extraordinary propaganda tool, and decided to create a proto-cult mixing moral ideas with the republic, based on Rousseau's ideas, with Robespierre as its high priest. On a sunny day at a hill, a statue is unveiled. With a torch given to him by David, Robespierre incinerates an image on cardboard symbolizing atheism, revealing an image of wisdom beneath it. The festivity hastened the fall of the man who had been called by his enemies the "Incorruptible". Soon, the war began to go well; French troops marched through Belgium, and there was no longer any urgency for creating the Public Health Committee. Then, conspirators seized Robespierre and guillotined him at the National Convention, thus ending the reign of terror in which thousands of people were executed. When David was being arrested, his friend shouted, "if you drink hemlock, I will drink it with you". After this, he fell ill and missed the afternoon session, which saved him from being guillotined along with Robespierre.
The death of Maximilien Robespierre marked the end of a bloody period during the French Revolution, and the last phase of the revolution was entered: the Directory. Authorities arrested and imprisoned David. While in prison, David painted his self-portrait, which showed him younger than he actually was. He also portrayed his jailer. After his wife visited him in prison, David conceived the idea of writing about the junipers. The painting The Abduction of the Sabines (finished in 1799) actually represents a later moment: the peace when the sabines interpose themselves between the combatants. The painting was seen as a plea to the people to unite again after the bloody phase of the French Revolution.
This work also attracted the attention of Napoleon. During this time, the martyrs of the revolution were buried in common ground and revolutionary statues destroyed. When David was finally released, the country had undergone many changes. His wife secured his release from prison and he wrote to his former wife, professing his continued love for her. The party was restored to its power in 1818. Finally, fully restored to his position, he took up pupils again and retired from politics.
David's association with the Public Health Committee led him to sign the death warrant for a noble named Alexandre. The wife of Beauharnais, Rose-Marie Josephe de Tascher de Beauharnais later became known worldwide as Josephine Bonaparte, empress of the French. It was at her husband, Napoleon I's coronation that Jacques-Louis David depicted Empress Josephine's crowning in the painting The Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, December 2, 1804.
Since their first meeting, David had admired Napoleon. The young general’s classical features impressed the painter. One way David was able to obtain a sketch of Napoleon was by asking the busy and impatient general to pose for him. David's painting of General Bonaparte holding the peace treaty with Austria remained unfinished. Napoleon, who held David's work in high esteem, asked him to accompany him to Egypt in 1798. David declined the proposition, maintaining that he was too old for adventures.
When Napoleon was First Consul of France, he commissioned David to commemorate his daring crossing of the Alps. The St. Bernard passage enabled the French to surprise the Austrian army and win the battle of Marengo on June 14, 1800. Even leaders who were previously asked to be portrayed "serene on a fierce horse" (Napoleon) sometimes ask to portray themselves as less aggressive. David was impressed with the Equestrian Portrait of Bonaparte on Mount St. Bernard. After the proclamation of the Empire in 1804, David was named official painter of the regime.
One of the works David was commissioned to paint was The Coronation of Napoleon at Notre Dame. He personally saw the event. He had pictures of the Notre Dame Cathedral brought to him and the people who participated in the coronation came to his studio to pose individually. David managed to convince the former patron of the arts and Napoleon's brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, to get the emperor's sister Caroline Murat and his wife, Josephine, to pose privately for him. David painted a wall mural of the presbytery of Notre Dame for the cathedral in 1805. The painting depicted Jesus Christ at his final judgment. It was devoid of all portraits, only the face of Jesus Christ remained. David had to redo several parts of the painting due to various whims of Napoleon, so he accepted only 24,000 francs for this painting.
After the Bourbons returned to power, David was on the list of outlaws by revolutionaries and Bonapartists because he had voted for the execution of Louis XVI and perhaps had something to do with the death of Louis XVII. Louis XVIII offered David amnesty, but David decided to take exile in Brussels, Belgium and dedicated his time to painting Love and Psyche (1817), a mythological scene and portraits of the people who escaped after Napoleon's reign. The last of David's great works was Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Graces, which he started in 1822 and finished the year before his death.
The plot of the play resembles that of the Greek legend. David was faithful to the legend and spent a lot of time working on the coloring, which is translucent and pearly, like a painting on porcelain. The painting was first shown in Brussels and then sent to Paris, where David's former pupils flocked in large numbers to see it. The exhibition made a net profit of 13,000 francs, which means that there were more than 10,000 visitors.
As David was walking on the road after attending a theater performance on December 29, 1825, he was struck by a carriage and died of heart deformities shortly afterwards. At auction in Paris, some of his portraits were sold for very low prices after his death. David's body was not allowed to return to France, despite his family's requests, because of David's intervention in the execution of Louis XVI and was therefore buried in Brussels, but his heart was taken to Père Lachaise, Paris.
Oil painting reproduction Jacques-Louis David