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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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Famous artists from the 19th century, such as Jacques Louis David, are recent enough for us to be able to source a large quanitity of documentation around their lives and careers, including attributable quotes.

The French Romanticists and Neo Classicists placed France at the head of the art world during periods in the 18th and 19th centuries and this continued later with the movement towards impressionism. The lives have been studied in detail, particularly by French historians, who have aimed at uncovering as much information on their lives as possible.

It is perhaps Eugene Delacroix whose career has been studied in the most depth and quotes from his life are available here. Of the later years, of course the career of Claude Monet remains prominent and quotes and comments from his life can alternatively be found here. Jacques Louis David was not considered at his level, but still highly significant and talented.

Famous Quotes by Jacques Louis David

The artist left a strong legacy through a large studio which continued much of his style for many years after. He was a strong character, built from the earlier difficulties that occurred as a result of losing his father at the age of 9. It helped to create an independence that stayed with him throughout his life and ensured he would continue along the same path, even when faced with difficulties.

Despite this legacy and the fact that his career was only a few centuries ago, there are surprisingly few attributable quotes from Jacques Louis David. Although he spent some years in hiding due to political instability across France, he was still around for plenty long enough to expect more to be availabe.

Perhaps there remains many more in his native French tongue that have simply not been translated yet, but below are all the quotes translated into English that we could uncover. We aim to provide greater context to them in future.

To give a body and a perfect form to one's thought, this - and only this - is to be an artist.

If the work is poor, the public taste will soon do it justice. And the author, reaping neither glory nor fortune, will learn by hard experience how to correct his mistakes.

In the arts the way in which an idea is rendered, and the manner in which it is expressed, is much more important than the idea itself.

It is the last painting that I want to do, but I want to surpass myself in it. I am putting into it the experience of my 65 years and I do not want to touch a paintbrush again.

The artist must be a philosopher. Socrates the skilled sculptor, Jean-Jacques [Rousseau] the good musician, and the immortal Poussin, tracing on the canvas the sublime lessons of philosophy, are so many proofs that an artistic genius should have no other guide except the torch of reason.

I will never, for the future, paint the portrait of a tyrant until his head lies before me on the scaffold.

Famous Quotes by Notable Painters and Art Historians on Jacques Louis David

Many have had their say on the man, as well as the paintings that he produced. He was close to some fellow artists, particularly Francois Boucher who helped him early in his career. He also gained strong contacts during his time studying elsewhere in Paris and also Rome.

Having left such a strong artistic legacy as well as getting caught up in the turbulent scene of French politics on several occassions, it is very straight forward to find opinions on Jacques Louis David from a variety of sources.

As a fervent supporter of the Revolution, David was captured by the charismatic power of Napoleon and the victories he brought the Republic. Although Napoleon's proclamation of himself as Consul for life and then Emperor were in conflict with David’s Republican beliefs in democracy, liberty and equality, David believed in Napoleon as a saviour of France and benefited from many commissions to record the ceremonies and people of the new regime.

After meeting Napoleon, David is said to have spoken to his students of Napoleon's appearance: "What a beautiful head he has! It is pure … beautiful like (the) antique." In a statement that reveals something of David's desire for recognition also, he said, "I shall slide into posterity in the shadow of my hero."

David's personal artistic style developed from years spent studying in Italy. His compositions were clear, Classical and somewhat austere. Among his early works were many which drew on allegories from Classical history to comment on events and ideas of his own time, but he was among the first to mythologise contemporary events. His depiction of Napoleon crossing the Alps drew on his knowledge of Classical equestrian sculpture.

National Gallery of Victoria

Jacques-Louis David was as political an artist as ever lived. He was a leader of the French Revolution, a prominent member of the radical Jacobin party, and a close friend of leader (and infamous tyrant) Maximilien Robespierre. He organized over-the-top propaganda festivals for France’s new republic. He even did jail time for his role in the Reign of Terror.

Lindsey Ward, Getty Museum

The art of Jacques Louis David embodies the style known as Neoclassicism, which flourished in France during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. David championed a style of rigorous contours, sculpted forms, and polished surfaces; history paintings, such as his Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of His Sons (Musée du Louvre, Paris) of 1789, were intended as moral exemplars. He painted in the service of royalty, radical revolutionaries, and an emperor; although his political allegiances shifted, he remained faithful to the tenets of Neoclassicism, which he transmitted to a generation of students, including Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson, François Gérard, Antoine Jean Gros, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art