Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) was a French painter of the Neoclassical style, one of the most important artists of the period.
Facial Tumor Doesn’t Make Him a Good Student
The artist was born from a very rich family in Paris, and although he received an excellent education at the College des Quatre-Nations, he never was a good student, given the fact he also had a facial tumor that impeded him to speak properly.
The artist was young when he went to learn from Francois Boucher, an influential Rococo (18th-century artistic movement) painter of the time and distant relative. Later, David was sent to Boucher’s friend Joseph-Marie Vien, another great master. In this period David attended the Royal Academy in Paris.
Prestigious Scholarship Brings Him to Rome
In 1774, David won the Prix de Rome — a prestigious art scholarship to the French Academy in Rome, and the artist travelled to Italy with his master Joseph-Marie Vien in 1775. While in Italy, David observed the Italian masterpieces, the ancient city of Rome, and studied the great masters.
Returning to Paris Provides Fame and Marriage
After 5 years spent in Rome, David returned to Paris. The artist was made a member of the Royal Academy, and praised by his famous contemporary painters. In this period of time, the artist married Marguerite Charlotte.
Returning to Rome With Wife and Pupils
David had his own pupils now — about 40-50 students — and was commissioned by the government to paint “Horace defended by his Father”. The artist decided, however, that: “Only in Rome can I paint Romans.” David headed to Rome for a second time, but now accompanied by his wife and some of his students.
David, Surprisingly, Supporting the French Revolution
During the French revolution, the artist helped destroy the old order. This came quite as a surprise, for there were certainly many more opportunities for him under the King than the new order. However, many think that David’s love for the classical made him embrace everything about that period. After a long time involved with politics, and some time also spent in jail, David eventually retreated to his studio, took pupils with him, and retired from politics.
The Relationship With Napoleon, the Exile, and the Death
David had been an admirer of Napoleon for a long time, and, likewise, Napoleon had high respect for David. Napoleon himself asked David to go with him to Egypt in 1798. The artist refused, but sent one of his students instead. After the proclamation of the Empire in 1804, David became the official court painter of the regime.
When the Bourbons returned to power, David was given again the choice to be the court painter. The artist refused, preferring a self-exile life in Brussels. In Brussels, David trained and influenced Brussels’ artists, and lived quietly with his wife. His last, great work, “Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces” — presented in the introductory image in this article — begin in 1822 and was completed the year before his death. Jacques Louis David died on Dec. 29, 1825.