The Dangerous Beauty of Jacques-Louis David


You are young, ambitious and want to change the world. You are an artist. You enrolled in one of the most prestigious laboratories in your field and gained the support of the top collectors in the area. But your country is plagued by social inequality and galloping inflation. Political crises are chained one after another. Is art enough now? Or should your art be transformed into something else? Is it more attractive, more dogmatic, and like propaganda?

And how far do you go when the world changes? Perhaps all the way to the Hall of Fame, we will adopt enthusiasm that no one has foreseen. When your allies execute enemies, you support them. When they are killed, you will admire them as martyrs. You go to jail, begging for a brush and pencil, and reappear in a country that wants to forget what you did.

In 2022, our museums and streaming services will serve the “power” and “relevance” of culture every day. Our discourse summarizes art into the dullest political message.It all sounds like the time of a child’s story behind the artist and moralist Jacques-Louis David, who portrayed the French Revolution. Deadly purity. In the 1780s, he eradicated the lightness and joy of Rococo with harsh historical paintings drawn from classic examples. Later, when Bastille fell, he turned his Roman justice into an image of what is happening now, and into his political life.

We are not talking about the creative soul in one or two protests. David and we are talking about the greatest artist of his generation, the most influential artist of the next generation. terrorist.. A friend and ally of Robespierre through terrorism, David sat in the Revolutionary Parliament and joined the most terrifying committee. He designed a new republic, signed an execution warrant for counter-revolutionaries, and created both what was perceived as real. (Cancel the culture.) In 1792, when the fate of the King came before the National Convention, citizen David proudly voted to send Louis XVI to the guillotine.

Held this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Jacques-Louis David: Radical Draftman,” is his uncompromising Jacobin year, prison, and from his youthful Roman studies that are the driving force of French neoclassicism. Until Napoleon’s Cabinet, and his last asylum in Brussels.

This is an academic feat, with loans from 20 institutions and discoveries from unprecedented personal collections. It fascinates experts who want to map how David built his sturdy canvas from preparatory sketches and research on curtains. But for the general public, “Radical Draftsman” has more direct importance. This show forces us, and on time, to think seriously about the true power of photography (and photographers) and the price of political and cultural certainty. What is beautiful and what is virtue? And when virtue accepts fear, what is beauty really for?

Jacques-Louis David was born in 1748 to the bourgeois family in Paris. As a teenager, he studied under Joseph Marie Vien. Joseph Marie Vien imbued the soft and idyllic Rococo style with a classic theme. Young David clung to ancient times, and in 1771 he applied for the Prix de Rome, contrary to Vien’s advice. This is an award for many years of living in Italy.

He failed. Too young. He tried again the following year, failed again, and threatened to starve himself. He tried again in 1773. He failed again. David did not forgive. In his fourth attempt, he entered — and in his student sketchbooks here, paintings of Capitoline, Forums, and busts of emperors and gods, how David greedily absorbed the Roman example. Shows.

In Rome, David made a dramatic shift from training his youth. The figures in his paintings became harder and more sculptural. The theme has shifted its focus from mythology to Roman history. Specifically, it’s a scene of patriotism in an early republic that he preferred over a decadent empire. The picture here depicts his relatives killing relatives and his mother sending his son to war. In his first masterpiece, The Oath of the Horatius Brothers, the three brothers stretch their arms as they vow to die for the Roman Republic. Their bodies are marble and hard. Their sisters sob, faint and are ignored in the corner. Duty first.

The Royal Commission’s Oath of the Horatius, completed in 1785, made David an unparalleled leader in French schools. The four figures show how he created this new composition. Look at the stiff diagonals of the Horace brothers’ limbs and the swirling fabric of their sister’s gown. The final piece in Paris will sparkle even more, but be aware of the narrow palette of colored drawings of stone gray and blood red. There are also some false starts. The two horrifying paintings here depict the later episodes of the story of the Horatius brothers. The brother kills the sister and punishes her feminine sorrow.

Throughout the Mets show, assembled by curator Perrin Stein and ruggedly cataloged, an array of three, four, or five sheets shows how David combined these rigorous multifigure scenes. Is shown. He started with sketches, understood the placement of the arms and legs, and often worked from nudity to correct the anatomy. Later, a larger study of fabrics and garments was carried out. Sometimes even a small amount of oil. No paintings are the result — with the exception of Met’s own “The Death of Socrates,” four paintings are another story of virtue and abandonment. The philosopher prepares to drink the hemlock provided by the disciples who are intolerable to see.

You are an artist and the year is 1789. Baguettes can eat cake at any time, but it costs almost a day’s wages. That year David completed another table of republican Roman virtues. Represented in eight figures, “Rictor brings his son’s body to Brutus,” his father refuses to mourn the dead children who supported the monarchy. (The choice between ideals and family is clear: kill your child.)

But something is happening in Versailles, where the common people of the Estates General have escaped from the clergy and aristocrats and proclaimed the legitimate parliament of France. One day in June, they found the meetinghouse door locked. They are nervous that Louis’s army may attack, so a member named Dr. Guillotine — and remember that name! — Suggest to move from the palace to a nearby tennis court.

What made the next immortal was that David (the author of “Brutas” and “Horace”), another Jacobin, emphasized “a French patriot whose genius expected a revolution.” Parliamentary leaders call for a vote to enact a constitution. The common people are devoted to stretching their arms, like the heroic Horace. Liberal priests and aristocrats join them, child Cheers from the high windows. History painting? Now we are living in history, and its influence is physical: witness a young Robespierre holding his chest at the Republican Orgasm in the center right.

David’s presentation drawing of “Tennis Court Oath” is the most heavily worked seat in this exhibition. But there is no final picture. The center’s parliamentary leader goes to the guillotine. And after the king and his wife were detained and a new republic was proclaimed, there was much more to do. David has joined the Public Education Commission (think the Ministry of Education meets the Ministry of Propaganda) and the Security Commission to crack down on terrorism. He disbanded the old academy and began an artistic competition to encourage revolutionary enthusiasm.

He designed new uniforms for judges and parliamentarians based on Roman models. He staged a huge parade for child martyrs and a festival for a new state religion celebrating the abstract supreme being. And when the new republic needed a hero, it was directed at him. Journalist Jean-Paul Marat is a crusader or hysterical, depending on your point of view, and is dead in the bath with a painted version of David’s best propaganda act. (The Death of Marat was exhibited at the Louvre on the afternoon of October 16, 1793. Marie Antoinette’s head fell into a bucket early that morning, but David’s last hour’s sketch is Not in Met.) David, a picture of Marat’s dense crosshatch in this show, keeps the murdered journalist’s eyes slightly open. His cheeks hang down and his lips become a purse, as if Marat was still speaking in people’s names.

He turned his art into agitprop, and what about it? Indeed, this was a natural extension of “Horace,” “Socrates,” and “Brutus.” It is an art as a device for instilling public virtues. And if the painter was part of the murder machine, that was not surprising. Virtues and fears were now cultural values. The artist must live them in public. And if you think of anything else, well, watch out for your neck.

You are an artist and things are going well. And the second year, 9 Termidor, July 27, 1794, before fellow revolutionaries changed the calendar. On the day Robespierre fell, David vowed to chase him and die with a word befitting his “Socrates.” However, David was conveniently absent from the guillotine the next day. Arrested a week later, he begged for his life with a curious defense. I’m just an artist.. One of the show’s most amazing feats is the assembly of six paintings of a Roman hero-like rounded frame of coins, created by David from fellow prison fellow Jacobins. One of them has the inscription “David faciebat of vinculis”. I made this with a chain..

In prison, he began sketching “The Intervention of the Sabini Women”. This is the first major painting after the revolution. It is a scene of love that leads the rival army to peace, which is the Roman model of French reconciliation. But by 1799, when the “Sabines” appeared, the Corsican general turned the ideal of the revolution towards personal hegemony. Having spent the last decade creating glasses of radical equality, David became Napoleon’s official court painter and praised the new emperor for his coronation-long panorama of 32 feet. In that gigantic work, Napoleon crowns Empress Josephine on her knees, but the figure here shows his original plan. He is wearing a crown with one hand.

Perhaps David’s revolutionary enthusiasm was tamed with age. Maybe he was just an opportunist and he wouldn’t give up power and fame once he tasted it. In any case, the 1815 Bourbon Restoration left the artist in motion. Brussels asylum seekers delicately painted portraits of aristocrats and families, not to mention happiness.

Prior to this mandatory exhibition, David’s later career always impressed me as a come-down. But here, I felt a new sympathy for those who didn’t know what to draw when that moment passed.Because David is so nice and so cold that you are the culture and politics please do not I have power. You are an artist and want to change the world. But what on earth are you going to do if you succeed?

Jacques-Louis David: A radical draftsman
Until May 15th, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 1000 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. 212-535-7710,


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