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From his earliest days back in France after1781, David attracted an admiring clientel among the intellectual elite of the capital. These frequenters of the popular salons flirted with the enlightenment ideas of the people, unspoiled by civilization, such as Rousseau had popularized. This portrait of Alphonse Leroy is typical of David's new approach. He shows Leroy as a writer, a thinker, and a man of the people: he is casually dressed, and without a wig.
In the picture, David's uncompromising subordination of color to drawing and his economy of statement were part of the new severity of taste, with a stress on the individual.