|Birth Day:||August 30, 1748|
|Death Date:||Dec 29, 1825 (age 77)|
As per our current Database, Jacques-Louis David died on Dec 29, 1825 (age 77).
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He was a student at the Royal Academy and desperately wanted to attend the French Academy in Rome. He competed for the art scholarship Prix de Rome five times, but failed to secure it each time.
Jacques-Louis David was born into a prosperous French family in Paris on 30 August 1748. When he was about nine his father was killed in a duel and his mother left him with his well-off architect uncles. They saw to it that he received an excellent education at the Collège des Quatre-Nations, University of Paris, but he was never a good student—he had a facial tumor that impeded his speech, and he was always preoccupied with drawing. He covered his notebooks with drawings, and he once said, "I was always hiding behind the instructor's chair, drawing for the duration of the class". Soon, he desired to be a painter, but his uncles and mother wanted him to be an architect. He overcame the opposition, and went to learn from François Boucher (1703–1770), the leading painter of the time, who was also a distant relative. Boucher was a Rococo painter, but tastes were changing, and the fashion for Rococo was giving way to a more classical style. Boucher decided that instead of taking over David's tutelage, he would send David to his friend, Joseph-Marie Vien (1716–1809), a painter who embraced the classical reaction to Rococo. There, David attended the Royal Academy, based in what is now the Louvre.
Each year the Academy awarded an outstanding student the prestigious Prix de Rome, which funded a 3- to 5-year stay in the Eternal City. Since artists were now revisiting classical styles, the trip to Rome provided its winners the opportunity to study the remains of classical antiquity and the works of the Italian Renaissance masters at first hand. Each pensionnaire was lodged in the French Academy's Roman outpost, which from the years 1737 to 1793 was the Palazzo Mancini in the Via del Corso. David competed for, and failed to win, the prize for three consecutive years (with Minerva Fighting Mars, Diana and Apollo Killing Niobe's Children and The Death of Seneca). Each failure contributed to his lifelong grudge against the institution. After his second loss in 1772, David went on a hunger strike, which lasted two and a half days before the faculty encouraged him to continue painting. Confident he now had the support and backing needed to win the prize, he resumed his studies with great zeal—only to fail to win the Prix de Rome again the following year. Finally, in 1774, David was awarded the Prix de Rome on the strength of his painting of Erasistratus Discovering the Cause of Antiochus' Disease, a subject set by the judges. In October 1775 he made the journey to Italy with his mentor, Joseph-Marie Vien, who had just been appointed director of the French Academy at Rome.
When Voltaire died in 1778, the church denied him a church burial, and his body was interred near a monastery. A year later, Voltaire's old friends began a campaign to have his body buried in the Panthéon, as church property had been confiscated by the French Government. In 1791, David was appointed to head the organizing committee for the ceremony, a parade through the streets of Paris to the Panthéon. Despite rain and opposition from conservatives due to the amount of money spent, the procession went ahead. Up to 100,000 people watched the "Father of the Revolution" being carried to his resting place. This was the first of many large festivals organized by David for the republic. He went on to organize festivals for martyrs that died fighting royalists. These funerals echoed the religious festivals of the pagan Greeks and Romans and are seen by many as Saturnalian.
While in Italy, David mostly studied the works of 17th-century masters such as Poussin, Caravaggio, and the Carracci. Although he declared, "the Antique will not seduce me, it lacks animation, it does not move", David filled twelve sketchbooks with drawings that he and his studio used as model books for the rest of his life. He was introduced to the painter Raphael Mengs (1728–1779), who opposed the Rococo tendency to sweeten and trivialize ancient subjects, advocating instead the rigorous study of classical sources and close adherence to ancient models. Mengs' principled, historicizing approach to the representation of classical subjects profoundly influenced David's pre-revolutionary painting, such as The Vestal Virgin, probably from the 1780s. Mengs also introduced David to the theoretical writings on ancient sculpture by Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), the German scholar held to be the founder of modern art history. As part of the Prix de Rome, David toured the newly excavated ruins of Pompeii in 1779, which deepened his belief that the persistence of classical culture was an index of its eternal conceptual and formal power. During the trip David also assiduously studied the High Renaissance painters, Raphael making a profound and lasting impression on the young French artist.
Although David's fellow students at the academy found him difficult to get along with, they recognized his genius. David's stay at the French Academy in Rome was extended by a year. In July 1780, he returned to Paris. There, he found people ready to use their influence for him, and he was made an official member of the Royal Academy. He sent the Academy two paintings, and both were included in the Salon of 1781, a high honor. He was praised by his famous contemporary painters, but the administration of the Royal Academy was very hostile to this young upstart. After the Salon, the King granted David lodging in the Louvre, an ancient and much desired privilege of great artists. When the contractor of the King's buildings, M. Pécoul, was arranging with David, he asked the artist to marry his daughter, Marguerite Charlotte. This marriage brought him money and eventually four children. David had about 50 of his own pupils and was commissioned by the government to paint "Horace defended by his Father", but he soon decided, "Only in Rome can I paint Romans." His father-in-law provided the money he needed for the trip, and David headed for Rome with his wife and three of his students, one of whom, Jean-Germain Drouais (1763–1788), was the Prix de Rome winner of that year.
In 1787, David did not become the Director of the French Academy in Rome, which was a position he wanted dearly. The Count in charge of the appointments said David was too young, but said he would support him in 6 to 12 years. This situation would be one of many that would cause him to lash out at the Academy in years to come.
In 1789, Jacques-Louis David attempted to leave his artistic mark on the historical beginnings of the French Revolution with his painting of The Oath of the Tennis Court. David undertook this task not out of personal political conviction but rather because he was commissioned to do so. The painting was meant to commemorate the event of the same name but was never completed. A meeting of the Estates General was convened in May to address reforms of the monarchy. Dissent arose over whether the three estates would meet separately, as had been tradition, or as one body. The King's acquiescence with the demands of the upper orders led to the deputies of the Third Estate renaming themselves as the National Assembly on 17 June. They were locked out of the meeting hall three days later when they attempted to meet, and forced to reconvene to the royal indoor tennis court. Presided over by Jean-Sylvain Bailly, they made a 'solemn oath never to separate' until a national constitution had been created. In 1789 this event was seen as a symbol of the national unity against the ancien regime. Rejecting the current conditions, the oath signified a new transition in human history and ideology. David was enlisted by the Society of Friends of the Constitution, the body that would eventually form the Jacobins, to enshrine this symbolic event.
David set out in 1790 to transform the contemporary event into a major historical picture which would appear at the Salon of 1791 as a large pen-and-ink drawing. As in the Oath of the Horatii, David represents the unity of men in the service of a patriotic ideal. The outstretched arms which are prominent in both works betray David's deeply held belief that acts of republican virtue akin to those of the Romans were being played out in France. In what was essentially an act of intellect and reason, David creates an air of drama in this work. The very power of the people appears to be "blowing" through the scene with the stormy weather, in a sense alluding to the storm that would be the revolution.
In June 1791, the King made an ill-fated attempt to flee the country, but was apprehended short of his goal on the Austrian Netherlands border and was forced to return under guard to Paris. Louis XVI had made secret requests to Emperor Leopold II of Austria, Marie-Antoinette's brother, to restore him to his throne. This was granted and Austria threatened France if the royal couple were hurt. In reaction, the people arrested the King. This led to an Invasion after the trials and execution of Louis and Marie-Antoinette. The Bourbon monarchy was destroyed by the French people in 1792—it would be restored after Napoleon, then destroyed again with the Restoration of the House of Bonaparte. When the new National Convention held its first meeting, David was sitting with his friends Jean-Paul Marat and Robespierre. In the Convention, David soon earned the nickname "ferocious terrorist". Robespierre's agents discovered a secret vault containing the King's correspondence which proved he was trying to overthrow the government, and demanded his execution. The National Convention held the trial of Louis XVI; David voted for the death of the King, causing his wife, a royalist, to divorce him.
In his attempt to depict political events of the Revolution in "real time", David was venturing down a new and untrodden path in the art world. However, Thomas Crow argues that this path "proved to be less a way forward than a cul-de-sac for history painting". Essentially, the history of the demise of David's The Tennis Court Oath illustrates the difficulty of creating works of art that portray current and controversial political occurrences. Political circumstances in France proved too volatile to allow the completion of the painting. The unity that was to be symbolized in The Tennis Court Oath no longer existed in radicalized 1792. The National Assembly had split between conservatives and radical Jacobins, both vying for political power. By 1792 there was no longer consensus that all the revolutionaries at the tennis court were "heroes". A sizeable number of the heroes of 1789 had become the villains of 1792. In this unstable political climate David's work remained unfinished. With only a few nude figures sketched onto the massive canvas, David abandoned The Oath of the Tennis Court. To have completed it would have been politically unsound. After this incident, when David attempted to make a political statement in his paintings, he returned to the less politically charged use of metaphor to convey his message.
When Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793, another man had already died as well—Louis Michel le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau. Le Peletier was killed on the preceding day by a royal bodyguard in revenge for having voted for the death of the King. David was called upon to organize a funeral, and he painted Le Peletier Assassinated. In it, the assassin's sword was seen hanging by a single strand of horsehair above Le Peletier's body, a concept inspired by the proverbial ancient tale of the sword of Damocles, which illustrated the insecurity of power and position. This underscored the courage displayed by Le Peletier and his companions in routing an oppressive king. The sword pierces a piece of paper on which is written "I vote the death of the tyrant", and as a tribute at the bottom right of the picture David placed the inscription "David to Le Peletier. 20 January 1793". The painting was later destroyed by Le Peletier's royalist daughter, and is known by only a drawing, an engraving, and contemporary accounts. Nevertheless, this work was important in David's career because it was the first completed painting of the French Revolution, made in less than three months, and a work through which he initiated the regeneration process that would continue with The Death of Marat, David's masterpiece.
On 13 July 1793, David's friend Marat was assassinated by Charlotte Corday with a knife she had hidden in her clothing. She gained entrance to Marat's house on the pretense of presenting him a list of people who should be executed as enemies of France. Marat thanked her and said that they would be guillotined next week upon which Corday immediately fatally stabbed him. She was guillotined shortly thereafter. Corday was of an opposing political party, whose name can be seen in the note Marat holds in David's subsequent painting, The Death of Marat. Marat, a member of the National Convention and a journalist, had a skin disease that caused him to itch horribly. The only relief he could get was in his bath over which he improvised a desk to write his list of suspect counter-revolutionaries who were to be quickly tried and, if convicted, guillotined. David once again organized a spectacular funeral, and Marat was buried in the Panthéon. Marat's body was to be placed upon a Roman bed, his wound displayed and his right arm extended holding the pen which he had used to defend the Republic and its people. This concept was to be complicated by the fact that the corpse had begun to putrefy. Marat's body had to be periodically sprinkled with water and vinegar as the public crowded to see his corpse prior to the funeral on 15 and 16 July. The stench became so bad however that the funeral had to be brought forward to the evening of 16 July.
This work also brought him to the attention of Napoleon. The story for the painting is as follows: "The Romans have abducted the daughters of their neighbors, the Sabines. To avenge this abduction, the Sabines attacked Rome, although not immediately—since Hersilia, the daughter of Tatius, the leader of the Sabines, had been married to Romulus, the Roman leader, and then had two children by him in the interim. Here we see Hersilia between her father and husband as she adjures the warriors on both sides not to take wives away from their husbands or mothers away from their children. The other Sabine Women join in her exhortations." During this time, the martyrs of the Revolution were taken from the Pantheon and buried in common ground, and revolutionary statues were destroyed. When David was finally released to the country, France had changed. His wife managed to get him released from prison, and he wrote letters to his former wife, and told her he never ceased loving her. He remarried her in 1796. Finally, wholly restored to his position, he retreated to his studio, took pupils and for the most part, retired from politics.
In August 1796, David and many other artists signed a petition orchestrated by Quatremère de Quincy which questioned the wisdom of the planned seizure of works of art from Rome. The Director Barras believed that David was "tricked" into signing, although one of David's students recalled that in 1798 his master lamented the fact that masterpieces had been imported from Italy.
David had been an admirer of Napoleon from their first meeting, struck by Bonaparte's classical features. Requesting a sitting from the busy and impatient general, David was able to sketch Napoleon in 1797. David recorded the face of the conqueror of Italy, but the full composition of Napoleon holding the peace treaty with Austria remains unfinished. This was likely a decision by Napoleon himself after considering the current political situation. He may have considered the publicity the portrait would bring about to be ill-timed. Bonaparte had high esteem for David, and asked him to accompany him to Egypt in 1798, but David refused, seemingly unwilling to give up the material comfort, safety, and peace of mind he had obtained through the years. Draftsman and engraver Dominique Vivant Denon went to Egypt instead, providing mostly documentary and archaeological work.
After Napoleon's successful coup d'état in 1799, as First Consul he commissioned David to commemorate his daring crossing of the Alps. The crossing of the St. Bernard Pass had allowed the French to surprise the Austrian army and win victory at the Battle of Marengo on 14 June 1800. Although Napoleon had crossed the Alps on a mule, he requested that he be portrayed "calm upon a fiery steed". David complied with Napoleon Crossing the Saint-Bernard. After the proclamation of the Empire in 1804, David became the official court painter of the regime. During this period he took students, one of whom was the Belgian painter Pieter van Hanselaere.
David was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1803. He was promoted to an Officier in 1808. And, in 1815, he was promoted to a Commandant (now Commandeur) de la Légion d'honneur.
David created his last great work, Mars Being Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces, from 1822 to 1824. In December 1823, he wrote: "This is the last picture I want to paint, but I want to surpass myself in it. I will put the date of my seventy-five years on it and afterwards I will never again pick up my brush." The finished painting—evoking painted porcelain because of its limpid coloration—was exhibited first in Brussels, then in Paris, where his former students flocked to view it.
The exhibition was profitable—13,000 francs, after deducting operating costs, thus, more than 10,000 people visited and viewed the painting. In his later years, David remained in full command of his artistic faculties, even after a stroke in the spring of 1825 disfigured his face and slurred his speech. In June 1825, he resolved to embark on an improved version of his Anger of Achilles (also known as the Sacrifice of Iphigenie); the earlier version was completed in 1819 and is now in the collection of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. David remarked to his friends who visited his studio "this [painting] is what is killing me" such was his determination to complete the work, but by October it must have already been well advanced, as his former pupil Gros wrote to congratulate him, having heard reports of the painting's merits. By the time David died, the painting had been completed and the commissioner Ambroise Firmin-Didot brought it back to Paris to include it in the exhibition "Pour les grecs" that he had organised and which opened in Paris in April 1826.
When David was leaving a theater, a carriage struck him, and he later died, on 29 December 1825. At his death, some portraits were auctioned in Paris, they sold for little; the famous Death of Marat was exhibited in a secluded room, to avoid outraging public sensibilities. Disallowed return to France for burial, for having been a regicide of King Louis XVI, the body of the painter Jacques-Louis David was buried in Brussels and moved in 1882 to Brussels Cemetery, while some say his heart was buried with his wife at Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
In the last 50 years David has enjoyed a revival in popular favor and in 1948 his two-hundredth birthday was celebrated with an exhibition at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris and at Versailles showing his life's works. Following World War II, Jacques-Louis David was increasingly regarded as a symbol of French national pride and identity, as well as a vital force in the development of European and French art in the modern era.
The theme of the oath found in several works like The Oath of the Tennis Court, The Distribution of the Eagles, and Leonidas at Thermopylae, was perhaps inspired by the rituals of Freemasonry. In 1989 during the "David against David" conference Albert Boime was able to prove, on the basis of a document dated in 1787, the painter's membership in the "La Moderation" Masonic Lodge.
Currently, Jacques-Louis David is 273 years, 1 months and 22 days old. Jacques-Louis David will celebrate 274th birthday on a Tuesday 30th of August 2022.
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