French Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David was born on August 30, 1748. In both his art and his life, David displayed a tempestuous nature, possibly inherited from his father, who was killed in a duel in 1757. He trained under Vien, and his early paintings featured the same uncomfortable blend of Rococo sweetness and antique trappings as those of his master.
After winning the Prix de Rome, however, David spent an extended study period in Italy (1775-80), where his art acquired a new dignity and grandeur. With their fiery patriotism and stern morality, David’s paintings of the 1780s captured the rebellious mood of the times. Indeed, his greatest painting, “The Death of the Horatii,” has often been seen as a visual call to arms. During the Revolution, David was swept up in politics, joining the National Convention, where he became associated with Robespierre and Marat, whose death he immortalized.
After their fall, he was imprisoned and was only saved from the guillotine by his royalist wife. This experience did nothing to quell the artist’s spirit, however, for he became equally involved with Napoleon. After the latter’s defeat, David fled to Brussels, where he remained in exile for the rest of his days. He died on December 29, 1825.