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Jacques Louis David
French
1748-1825

Jacques Louis David

Modern
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Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) was a famous French painter and the founder of neoclassical paintings. His painting style was rigorous, and his technique was refined.


During the Jacobin dictatorship of the bourgeois revolutionary democrats, he served as a member of the Public Education Committee and the Fine Arts Committee. His early works were based on historical heroes, such as Oath of the Horatii and The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons.


Experience

Jacques-Louis David was born into a wealthy family in Paris. His father died when he was ten, and his uncle, a royal bricklayer, raised him. A keen painter, David was sent to Boucher for painting lessons with the help of friends and relatives, and Boucher, finding David's temperament inconsistent with his own rococo style, transferred him to Vien, a professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.


David was admitted to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture at sixteen. He almost committed suicide because he failed to get a place in the competition for three consecutive years until he won the Rome Prize in 1774.


In 1775, he went to Italy to study art and was influenced by the art of ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance, and became interested in classicism.


He returned home in 1780 and became a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1784. He went to Rome again that year and created Oath of the Horatii, which made him famous. The classical heroic theme, solemn colors and rigorous composition of this work made it a masterpiece of the Classical school of painting.


David was not a genius. He had a quiet, reflective personality, was not very sociable, lacking in elegance, and gave the impression of youthful sophistication, and he studied Poussin, Boucher, Gleizes and Caravaggio seriously with amazing perseverance and diligence.


At the age of 23, David took the Roman Prize examination for the first time, and the subject was the battle between Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and Mars, the god of war. The artistic style was basically imitating the Rococo style, but the figures were emotionally intense and heavy in pace, so the painting was very incongruous and lost.


It was not until 27 that David won the Rome Prize to study in Rome after three failed attempts. During his study in Rome, he was moved by the ancient Greco-Roman art relics and developed a keen interest in research and study. He resolved not to engage in art creation, for the time being, concentrated on Greco-Roman sculpture, and drew sketches seriously for four years, returning to the Paris Salon with a sketch draft of The Funeral Games of Patroclus when he was 32. While receiving the influence of ancient art, David was also influenced by ancient Roman republicanism in his ideology and politics and developed his political passion against feudal autocracy. Later, he tried to borrow the ancient Greco-Roman art style to convey his political views, thoughts and feelings.


David initially sought the source of beauty and ideals from ancient Greco-Roman legends and art and regarded the character and artistic style of ancient heroes as the highest standard of aesthetics. He once said that antiquity was the school of contemporary painters and was an inexhaustible source of artistic creation for contemporary painters. Later, due to the contact with some anti-feudal revolutionaries, such as Robespierre, the leader of the Jacobins, he made some changes in his political thought and artistic concept and created some works with the spirit of the times. From then on, David bravely stood at the height of the times, used his art to serve the anti-feudal struggle, and gradually entered the realism trend. He said: "Art must help the happiness and edification of the whole population, art must reveal the virtue and courage of the citizens to the general public." From then on, David used art as a fighting weapon against feudalism and ascended to the world of painting and politics as a warrior. His representative work in this period is Oath of the Horatii.


If Rococo art was the need of Louis XV to adapt to the empty hearts of the declining aristocracy who were about to be guillotined, David's art was in direct service of the bourgeois revolution. David continued to explore artistic creation in the context of the new era, breaking through the stereotypes of Classicalism and going further than the Realism of the Enlightenment to depict the reality of the revolutionary struggle of his time. He used historical themes to reveal the revolutionary ideas of how to establish and consolidate a new social system and a new social ethos. When the storm of the revolution came, David was not only a painter but also an active participant in the revolutionary struggle as a social activist and revolutionary. He was elected to the National Assembly, became a comrade of the revolutionary leader Robespierre, and engaged in numerous revolutionary artistic activities as a member of the Committee of General Security. He openly advocated that art must serve the political struggle, saying: "Art is not an end, but a means. It exists in order to help the triumph of a certain political concept."


During the French Revolution, David created some portraits with distinctive characteristics of the revolutionary era, the most outstanding of which was The Death of Marat, on the advice of the National Assembly. 


1794 was the most glorious year in David's artistic career. His art was full of the revolutionary flavor of the times, with a clear political and ideological inclination, and combined the classical art form with the real life of the times, making him a revolutionary artist.


However, the Jacobins were overthrown, and David was arrested and imprisoned. After he was released from prison, he was shocked to see the changes in the country. The ideal of the revolution was shattered, and the whole society was plunged into the abyss of darkness and terror, which left David disheartened and powerless. From then on, he abandoned realistic subjects and immersed himself in the yearning for ancient society and never painted revolutionary works with passion. He stopped all social activities during those dark years and was so depressed that his artistic life was facing depletion. At this time, the painter was looking forward to peace, and in this state of mind, he created The Rape of the Sabine Women.


David left valuable experience and lessons to the artists who came after him. He once said some inspiring words that still have educational significance for our artistic creation: "Painting is not technique, and technique cannot constitute a painter." He also said, "He who holds the palette is not necessarily a painter; the hand that holds the palette must obey the mind." These have become the aphorisms of painters. When Napoleon seized power and established the empire, David served Napoleon again and became the chief painter of the empire. During this period, he created many works reflecting Napoleon's heroic performance and image.


In 1816, Napoleon was overthrown, and the Bourbon dynasty was restored. David, who had voted for the execution of Louis XVI, was expelled, and he was forced to move to Brussels, Belgium, and finally died in a foreign country.


Representative Works

In 1789, he created The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons to coincide with the French Revolution that took place at that time, which had a huge response from the public.


In 1792, he was elected as a representative of the National Convention and became a member of the Public Education Committee and the Art Committee. He made many contributions to the French Museum's construction during the French Revolution and the protection and construction of the Louvre and became one of the founders of the French museum.


In 1793, he created The Death of Marat, which faithfully described the scene of Marat's assassination in the bathroom. He was appointed as a member of the Committee of General Security, followed Robespierre, and was therefore arrested as one of the heads of the Jacobins in 1794. In prison, he saw the scenery through the window and created View of the Luxembourg Gardens. He was released by the end of the year as his students ran to the rescue.

After his release, he mainly engaged in teaching and portrait painting and taught many later famous painters in Europe, such as Ingres, Gérard and Gros.


When Napoleon came to power in 1797 and reappointed David, he became Napoleon I's chief court painter and created many large glorious works for Napoleon, such as The Coronation of Napoleon.


After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, he fled to Brussels to depend on his students, where he made a living by creating portraits and landscapes. When he was in Brussels, his creative interest returned to the subjects of ancient Greece and Rome.


He died in Brussels in 1825 and was buried in the Brussels Eiffel Cemetery, and his heart was transported back to Paris alone and buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery with his wife.

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