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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Jacques Louis David was an influential French artist whose famous paintings included the likes of Oath of the Horatii, Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass and The Intervention of the Sabine Women

David the artist was classified within the Neoclassical style and he created paintings within the 18th and 19th century at a time when France was startin to establish itself as the major artistic force within Europe. Jacques Louis David is best remembered for his portrait paintings of military general Napoleon, though Oath of the Horatii is perhaps his most important painting of all. Those who want to browse just the better known works from his career can see the gallery below which covers around 25 paintings, with a list of more if you are interested in studying his career in further detail. Jacques Louis David had a close relationship with Napoleon and this enabled him great opportunities within his career, with large commissions following from rich families who wanted their own portraits to be created by the artist who was respected by such a major figure within France.

It is rare for an artist to have such a close relationship with a major military or political figure as most naturally push away from the establishments such as these. One similar example would be Hans Holbein and his frequent paintings of King Henry VIII. After big political changes within France, artist Jacques Louis David was actually imprisoned and at this time he did begin to regret some of his alliances that had built up over his career and now were a great problem to him. Happily, the students that had been taught by David for many years were free of these same connections and as such could follow their own paths without any problem.

Influences on the career of Jacques Louis David

Masters from the Renaissance and Baroque eras were studied by David in his early years, giving him ideas for both technique and theme. Most significantly, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Raphael drew his attention and there was sufficient written documentation on their careers even at that time. Nicolas Poussin and Peter Paul Rubens were also influential to a lesser extent.

Artists inspired by the career of Jacques Louis David

Jean-Germain Drouais, Theodore Gericault, Anne-Louis Girodet and Yue Minjun are all known to have been directly influenced and inspired by the achievements of David. There are clear similarities between some of his work and Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, for example. More recent contributors to impressionism and other movements of around this period include Renoir and Cezanne and they both cited his work as influential on their own artistic development, particularly in the earlier stages.

Oath of the Horatii

Oath of the Horatii was created by Jacques-Louis David in 1784 when the artist was only 36, but clearly had already developed his skills. Oath of the Horatii is a huge painting now stored in the Louvre in Paris and measured an extraordinary 326 cm × 420 cm (128 in × 170 in), though it isn't known quite how long it took the artist to create this giant masterpiece. The Oath of the Horatii painting is perhaps the very best example of Jacques-Louis David's Neoclassical style that can be found right across his career. The Oath of the Horatii specifically refers to the event where the three sons of Horatius swear on their swords that they will defend Rome to the death. It is important to realise that the painting was inspired by events but added very much more to it in order to create this scene and to help it become a momentous classic painting. Despite the fame of Napoleon it is probably this painting which is most respected of all Jacques-Louis David's works.

Death of Marat

Death of Marat followed nine years later after Oath of the Horatii in 1793 and is perhaps equally memorable an art work. It is another historic and politically inspired painting, covering a moment within the world famous French Revolution of which the artist was himself somewhat involved due to his connections with high society which he had built up over the period of his developing career. The Death of Marat original painting is now stored at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and is well worth a visit if you find yourself in Brussels. The Royal Museum contains over 20,000 pieces of varied art work which date from the early 15th century to the present. Other artists besides Jacques Louis David featured in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium include Pieter Bruegel and Anthony van Dyck.

Death of Socrates

Death of Socrates is another Neo-classicist work by Jacques-Louis David and is entirely in black and white, though that doesn't detract from the excitement and energy found within the painting. There is a lively atmosphere within the drawing and it is likely to have taken quite some time for the artist to complete it. It again underlines Jacques-Louis David's interest in history and also how he would use certain moments in history as a basis for scenes in his paintings or sketches. By the end of his career Jacques Louis David had taught and influenced a huge number of young artists which helped his own reputation to continue into later generations as well as the specific style that he used. One label given to many artists who followed in his footsteps was the academic Salon approach and this is still reasonably well known within the boundaries of French art even today.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps Jacques Louis David

Napoleon Crossing the Alps is one of several titles given at different times to the same painting which features the iconic French military leader in the most powerful and positive light anyone could imagine. Any military leader would want to be depicted within the battlefield, and with a great air of leadership and strength about them and this painting was ideal to Napoleon for generating exactly that atmosphere. Mars Being Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces is not shown within Jacqueslouisdavid.net but was also an important painting from this great French artist, coming as his final art work piece in 1824 just a year before his death. It is yet another grand painting in the Neo-classicist stye and took the artist two years to finally complete it, having started in late 1822.

Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon

Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon captures yet another key historic moment of this French figurehead and further establishes his relationship with artist Jacques-Louis David.

Napoleon Crossing the Saint Bernhard Pass

Sabine Women

List of famous Jacques Louis David Paintings

This website offers up the best works from the career of this famous French Neo-classicist painter but see below if you would like a fuller list of his greatest art works.

  • Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass
  • Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès
  • Antoine Lavoisier and his wife
  • The Death of Marat
  • The Lictors Bring to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons
  • Oath of the Horatii
  • The Death of Socrates
  • Equestrian portrait of Stanisław Kostka Potocki
  • The Coronation of Napoleon
  • The Intervention of the Sabine Women
  • Mars Being Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces
  • Portrait of Anne-Marie-Louise Thélusson
  • The Death of Marat
  • Portrait of Madame de Verninac
  • Madame Récamier
  • Portrait of Pope Pius VII
  • The Coronation of Napoleon
  • Napoleon in His Study
  • Marguerite-Charlotte David
  • Leonidas at Thermopylae
  • Étienne-Maurice Gérard
  • The Comtesse Vilain XIIII and Her Daughter
  • The Anger of Achilles