Bust of Jacques Louis David (Painter)
by François Rude
This person is associated with: Neoclassicism, Romanticism
French Neoclassical Painter, one of the most important artists in history.
David was trained by Joseph-Marie Vien who sent him to 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 these 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 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 had not followed his style were quickly forgotten, such as Fragonard, who was 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 where he was seated alongside Marat and Robespierre and voted with them for 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 a member of the Comity of General Security, the police organ of the Terror, where, before the Revolutionary Tribunal, he sent several people to certain death, 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 and the Festival of the Supreme Being , which turned him into 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 had an artist achieved such power.
Nevertheless, after the fall of Robespierre (July 1794), David was threatened for his deeds during the Terror and imprisoned. 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 commissioned from him several large pieces as propaganda, such as Napoleon Crossing the Alps or The Coronation of Napoleon in 1807, his most impressive work.
However, the fall of Napoleon in 1815 resulted in a second period of disgrace. Still a Republican, David chose to go into exile in Belgium in order not to serve a king, even though King Louis XVIII had forgiven him for having voted for the death of his brother. In Brussels, David opened a new workshop and still continued to teach his art to a number of 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: Aparicio, Benoist, Broc, Drouais, Duqueylard, Fabre, Ingres, Gérard, Girodet, Gros, Guillemot, Paelinck, Quays, Riesener, Topino-Lebrun, and Vanderlyn.