Unfinished Portrait of General Bonaparte Jacques Louis David Buy Art Prints Now
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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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Artworks left unfinished provide an interesting insight into the working practices of any artist. For those from more famous painters, they also can still hold substantial value.

This example from the career of Jacques Louis David underlines how he would first address the facial elements before moving onto the rest of the painting. Perhaps he saw this as the most challenging and compositionally signifcant part of the work, and so wanted to get it right before moving on to the rest of the scene. There are also faint marks of pencil or charcoal where he has loosely marked out the limbs of the model. It is noticeable how brief the detail is here, merely rough outlines and just a suggestion about how the clothing would then be formed. Whilst being a skilled draughtsman, it is clear that David liked to leave most of the finer detail to when he got to applying the tones of oil.

The painting itself was to be a portrait of a young, dashing General Bonaparte, deliberately postured in a confident and commanding pose. One can imagine that had the dark blue uniform been completed, as well as perhaps a simple background landscape, then this would have been a fine artwork to add to the oeuvre of David's completed paintings. Sadly, this was never to be the case and we are left here to discuss an incomplete piece that strenghens the artist's connection to the famous leader. He looks up to his right, our left, into the distance, as if directing soldiers during one of his many battles. He wears a small purple scarf or cravate alongside deep red lapels, sat on his stunning blue uniform.

This part-finished oil on canvas can now be found within the collection of the Louvre in Paris, though may not always be on display. It is dated at 1798, at which point Napoleon himself would have been in his late twenties, making this perhaps a piece based on him at the time. The intention was to capture the figure at the Battle of Rivoli, with the Treaty of Campo Formio in his grasp. Alas, the work was never completed and it's much larger size was cropped down to save just this part. The rest was discarded, and that explains why this remaining fragment is much smaller than most of his completed paintings. It is at least positive that this part was saved, as there is a great historical significance between the relationship between the general and this artist.

Unfinished Portrait of General Bonaparte in Detail Jacques Louis David