Jacques-Louis David came to the fore as the unchallenged leader of the renewal of historical painting in Europe with The Oath of the Horatii, painted a few steps from the Piazza del Popolo in his atelier in Rome over almost a year. He ushered in a new era of radical classicism that permanently banished the frivolity of rococo. David's passionate talent acknowledged the masterpieces of antiquity and those of Poussin and Caravaggio, Winckelmann's aesthetic doctrine, and the moral fibre of Corneille's heroes to create a forceful, spare figurative language that perfectly expressed his contemporary Diderot's notion to "paint as they spoke in Sparta". Four years later, in the Parisian Salon of 1789, David's huge canvas of Brutus directly expressed the patriotic, ethical and emotional revolutionary fervour raging in Paris and subsequently across France.
The artist threw himself headlong into the revolution, embracing the most radical options and bearing the consequences: he spent several months in prison after the coup that ended the Terror, and was exiled in Brussels many years later following the restoration of the monarchy, having refused to disavow the Revolutionary Convention's passing of the death sentence on Louis XVI over twenty years before. This monograph follows the great Parisian painter's evolution step by step, focusing on the connection he established between art and politics. David's political involvement was independent and enlightened, and lasted throughout his career. During the Revolution, he took part as an individual and then held government positions, developing from Jacobin to "repentant" Jacobin to convinced champion of Napoleon. In his final years in exile, remote from (and possibly disenchanted with) militant politics, David's work becomes deliberately consolatory and evasive. This lifelong inter-dependence of the aesthetic and the political, of ideology and artistic style, makes him almost unique in pre-twentieth-century art.
General Curator of the Graphic Arts Department, Director of the Musee Delacroix since 1984, Junior Lecturer at the Ecole du Louvre. The author of a number of publications on the French and European 19th century.