Jacques-Louis David (August 30, 1748 - December 29, 1825), most usually known as David (pronounced "Dah-veed" rather than "Day-vid"), was a French painter.
David was born into a middle-class Parisian family. In 1757 his mother deserted him and he was subsequently raised by his uncles after his father was killed. All his life he suffered from severe emotional problems.
At 16 he began studying art at the Académie Royale under the rococo painter Joseph-Marie Vien. He won the Prix de Rome in 1774 after having attempted suicide when he lost the contest for three years in a row.
He subsequently travelled to Italy where he was strongly influenced by the wealth of classical art and the classically inspired work of the 17th century painter Nicolas Poussin.
David devised his own individual neoclassical style, drawing subject matter from classical sources, basing both form and style on Roman sculpture. His Oath of the Horatii was intended as a proclamation of the neoclassical style. Presenting a moralistic and patriotic theme, the work became the model for noble and heroic historical painting of the following two decades. It greatly increased his popularity and gave him the right to take on his own students.
Oath of the Horatii
After 1789, David moved towards a more realistic rather than neoclassical painting style in order to accurately depict scenes of the French Revolution (1789-1799). David was active in the Revolution, and was elected a deputy to the National Convention on September 17, 1792. He sided with the extremists known as the Montagnards, with Marat, Georges Danton, and Robespierre. Apart from his many illustrious paintings, David is also the author of the famous sketch of Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine.
During this time he had proposed the establishment of an inventory of all national treasures, making him one of the founders of France's museums and played an active role in the organization overseeing the Louvre Museum, in Paris.
As a member of the Convention, he was appointed to the Committee of General Security in 1793. This empowered him to condemn nearly 300 arrested individuals to be guillotined. After 9 Thermidor he was imprisoned for his actions. His students demanded his release, and he was freed on December 28, 1794.
Towards the end of 1797 he met Napoleon Bonaparte and from 1799 to 1815 he was Napoleon's painter, chronicling his life in such massive oeuvres as The Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine which now hangs in the Louvre. One of his most famous pupils, also a favorite of Napoleon and Josephine, was François Gérard (1770 - 1837). After Napoleon's downfall in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, David was exiled to Brussels, Belgium, where he returned to Greek and Roman mythological subjects.
David, throughout his career, was also a prolific portraitist. Smaller and more intimately human than his larger works, portraits such as Madame Récamier show great technical mastery and human insight. Many critics consider them his best work since they are free of the propensity to moralisation and overwhelming obeisance to style of his neoclassical works.
He died in Brussels, Belgium on December 29, 1825 and was buried at the Evere Cemetery, Brussels. His heart was interred separately at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.