ISBN 13: 9780714891057


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Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) was the most important European artist in a period of extraordinary upheaval. A participant in the French Revolution, he then witnessed the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. A revolutionary in both art and life, David took painting away from the frivolity of the Rococo towards the dramatic moral force of neoclassicism. Passionate, intense, fiercely ambitious and a shrewd businessman, David brought to life in his paintings the heroic deeds of the ancient world, commemorated the revolutionary years in France and glorified the reign of Napoleon. In this comprehensive book Simon Lee employs up-to-date scholarship to present a view of David that incorporates artistic, political and social concerns. It deals with all aspects of his career and character and traces his changing relationships with his patrons. Lee follows David's career from his early student years in Rome, through his time as chief artist to the revolutionary government and Napoleon, to his life in exile in Brussels.

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Writing on the French Revolution, Karl Marx famously commented that the heroes of the revolution "performed the task of their time in Roman costume and with Roman phrases". The one painter who was almost single-handedly responsible for clothing the revolution in the mantle of the Classical past was Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), one of the most controversial painters to have emerged from this incredibly turbulent period in the history of modern France. Although David's famously austere Classical style has fallen out of fashion in recent years, Simon Lee's study David does a fine job of rescuing the artist from antiquarian curiosity, and placing him right back at the heart of revolutionary France.

Lee charts the rise of David from relative mediocrity as a highly academic painter, to his enthusiastic support for the revolution of 1789, culminating in his remarkable painting Marat Breathing his Last (1793). Arrested and narrowly avoiding execution in the political backlash following the overthrow of Robespierre, David turned his back on politics to concentrate on his art, only to find himself catapulted back into the political limelight with his fervent embrace of Napoleon Bonaparte. This led to the creation of some of David's most imposing paintings, from the equestrian portraits of Napoleon, to the pomp of The Coronation of the Emperor and Empress. But once again, David's political hopes were dashed with Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815, which led to David going into self-imposed exile in Brussels, where he died 10 years later.

Despite Lee's rather wooden prose, this is a thorough, detailed and generously illustrated study of a fascinatingly contradictory patrician, but technically brilliant painter.--Jerry Brotton

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Simon Lee
Published by Phaidon Press Ltd.
ISBN 10: 0714891053 ISBN 13: 9780714891057
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Revaluation Books
(Exeter, United Kingdom)

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