by Jacques-Louis David
This person is associated with: Neoclassicism
French Neoclassical Painter, one of the most important artists in history.
David was trained by Joseph-Marie Vien who sent him in the French Academy in 1766.
He failed at the Prix de Rome in 1771 (The Combat of Mars and Minerva), in 1772 (Diana and Apollo Piercing Niobe’s Children with their Arrows) and 1773 (The Death of Seneca). He finally won the prize in 1774 (Erasistratus Discovering the Cause of Antiochus' Disease), but his failures left him resentful against the French Academy.
Although his first works were influenced by the prevalent Rococo style of Boucher, he switched to Neoclassicism during his journey to Rome (1775-1780) and became the leader and even the embodiment of this new style, especially with his Belisarius (1781) and The Oath of the Horatii (1783).
Neoclassicism was very much appreciated by the rising bourgeoisie which took the power with the Revolution of 1789. Indeed, Greco-Roman history was seen as a model for the new political class, therefore David's style reminiscent of Antiquity had a tremendous success. Those who did not follow his style were quickly forgotten, like Fragonard, however the most successful artist of the previous decade.
David also started a political career in 1792, with the beginning of the French Republic. His artistic fame and his radical statements against the monarchy helped him to be elected representative of Paris in the Convention. There, he seated alongside Marat and Robespierre and voted with them the death of King Louis XVI; he was also elected president of the Convention for two weeks in January 1794. Thanks to Robespierre's influence, he became member of the Comity of General Security, the police organ of the Terror, where he sent several people to a certain death before the Revolutionary Tribunal, including some of his former patrons (Lavoisier for example).
In 1793, he successfully requested the suppression of the French Academy, which he had always hated. He also directed some republican ceremonies, such as the funerals of Voltaire or the Festival of the Supreme Being , which turned him in a kind of a 'Dictator of the Arts'. His workshop, overcrowded with dozens of pupils, became the major art centre of the Western World. Never in history an artist had gotten such power.
Nevertheless, after the fall of Robespierre (July 1794), David was threatened for his deeds during the Terror and put in jail. His life was only spared thanks to his students who petitioned the new government.
The rise of Napoleon Bonaparte relaunched his artistic career. The First Consul, then Emperor, chose David as his official painter and ordered him several large pieces for his propaganda, such as The Coronation of Napoleon in 1807, his most impressive work.
However, the fall of Napoleon in 1815 caused him a second disgrace. As David had voted the death of Louis XVI, he was banished from France by King Louis XVIII and settled in Brussels. There, he opened a new workshop and still continued to teach his art to many students.
He died in exile in 1825. His oeuvre influenced academic painting until the beginning of the 20th century.
He only painted about one hundred works, but made several thousands drawings.
He was the master of more than three hundred painters, including: