"Jacques-Louis David, French painter. He was a supporter of the French Revolution and one of the leading figures of Neoclassicism. He was a distant relative of Boucher, who perhaps helped his early artistic progress as a pupil under Vien (1765). He won the Prix de Rome in 1774 and travelled with his master to Rome where he spent six years. It was during this period (1775-81), that he abandoned the grand manner of his early work, with its Baroque use of lighting and composition for a stark, highly finished and morally didactic style. This was influenced by the ideas then current in Rome (Winckelmann) and by artists such as Hamilton who were already experimenting with a Neoclassical idiom. In 1784 the change of style was confirmed by the Oath of the Horatii (Paris, Louvre), probably the most famous and certainly the most severe of a series of works which extolled the antique virtues of stoicism, masculinity and patriotism. During the French Revolution, David played an active role both artistically he reorganized the Académe and produced numerous and spectacular propaganda exercises - and politically, as an avid supporter of Robespierre, who voted for the execution of the king. He also attempted to catalogue the new heroes of the age, abortively in the Oath of the Tennis Court, and successfully in his pieta-like portrayal of the Death of Marat (1793, Brussels, Musée Royaux). He eventually lost out in the confused politics of the 1790s, was imprisoned under the moderate Directory and saved by the intervention of his estranged wife, symbolized in his Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799, Paris, Louvre), a work which strained his Classicism in the search for Greek purity. In 1799 Napoleon gained power, and David gained a new hero. He recorded the general and later the Emperor in numerous propaganda pieces (e.g. Napoleon at Mont St Bernard, 1800, Versailles; The Crowning of Josephine) in which his sobriety was loosened by Napoleon's demand for grandeur. In professional terms, he failed to survive the fall of his master, and in 1815 retired in exile to Brussels, where he continued to work in a highly finished Classical vein, but resorted to myth for his subject-matter (e.g. The Disarming of Mars). Throughout his career he produced portraiture which not only catalogued the changing political spectrum, but also his own artistic developments (e.g. Antoine Lavoisier and his Wife, 1788, New York, Metropolitan Museum). He was also a great teacher, numbering among his pupils Gros, Ingres, Gerard and Girodet, although few of them actually followed the severity of his style."
- From The Bulfinch Guide to Art History