Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) is generally considered the leading figure of the artistic school called Neo-Classicism. Born in Paris, he was deserted by his mother at age 9 after his father had been killed in a duel. Raised by uncles, he enrolled at age seventeen in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. He was not an outstanding student, and tried four times before he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1774 which permitted him to go to Italy for advanced studies.
David was immediately fascinated by the recently undertaken excavations at Pompeii. Returning to Rome from an extended stay in Naples, he wrote that he felt as if "he had just had a cataract removed." For the rest of his stay in Italy, he studied Roman bas-reliefs, and more importantly, began to look at the world with a Roman eye, that is with a social republicanism! He looked to the arts of antiquity to find an ancient moral energy. Even in his earliest paintings, there is a freshness that avoids superfluous effects that was light years away from the frivolous pathos of contemporary French painting. (see the first four paintings below)
Once the revolution occurred, David rapidly became an enthusiastic supporter, joining the Mountain, and then the Jacobin club. Over the next 20 years he could be considered the "official" painter of the revolution, supporting first the Constitutional Monarchy, then the Reign of Terror (he voted to execute the King), then the Thermidorian reaction, and finally as court painter to Napoleon Bonaparte.
But throughout these political changes, David remained absolutely true to his view of art, as an exercise in moral integrity..
For information on individual works, and enlargement of picture, click on thumbnail.
Show Slide Show - David