Exhibition | Jacques Louis David: Radical Draftsman

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on February 16, 2022

Jacques Louis David, The Death of Socrates, ca. 1786, pen and black ink, over black chalk, touches of brown ink, squared in black chalk, sheet: 11 × 16 inches (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015.149).

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From the press release for the exhibition:

Jacques Louis David: Radical Draftsman
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 17 February — 15 May 2022

Organized by Perrin Stein

Regarded in his time as the most important painter in France, Jacques Louis David (1748–1825) produced major canvases that shaped the public’s perceptions of historical events in the years before, during, and after the French Revolution. Drawings were the primary vehicle by which he devised and refined his groundbreaking compositions. Jacques Louis David: Radical Draftsman is the first exhibition devoted to works on paper by this celebrated and influential artist. Through some 80 drawings and sketches from the collections of The Met and numerous private and institutional lenders from the United States and abroad—including rarely loaned or newly discovered works—visitors will see the progress of his ideas as he worked to create his masterful paintings. A highlight of the exhibition will be a work in The Met collection, The Death of Socrates (1787)—David’s most important painting in America—which will be displayed along with preparatory drawings that reveal his years-long thought process and planning.

The exhibition—the first to focus on David’s preparatory studies—looks beyond his public successes to chart the moments of inspiration and the progress of ideas, both artistic and psychological. The works will be presented chronologically, starting with David’s early training in Rome. Sketches from this period represent the vast store of motifs that he mined for decades thereafter, including for his most famous paintings.

The works David submitted to the Salons after returning to France heralded a powerful new neoclassical style that drew its inspiration from classical antiquity. Paintings like The Oath of the Horatii (1784) and The Death of Socrates (1787) won instant acclaim and buttressed his growing reputation as leader of the French school. Several drawings on view demonstrate the artist’s struggles to heighten the psychological impact and create a more powerful overall composition.

Rebelling against the constraints of France’s centralized monarchy in its waning days, David embraced the changes wrought by the Revolution of 1789. His most ambitious project—a depiction of the Oath of the Tennis Court, the event in which representatives of different classes of French society pledged to draft a constitution to counterbalance the absolute authority of the king—was never completed. The exhibition will feature a large presentation drawing that is one of David’s supreme achievements, deftly redeploying the language of the classical past to imbue a contemporary event with the drama and gravitas of a history painting.

David’s support of the more radical faction of the fledgling Republic led to his imprisonment. After his release, he attempted to regain dominance of the French school by exploring themes of national reconciliation through historical subjects like The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799). Eventually, David reclaimed the spotlight through his support of Napoleon Bonaparte. David’s magisterial canvas memorialized the glittering spectacle in Notre Dame cathedral that marked Napoleon’s ascent from successful general to crowned emperor of France in 1804.

After a string of military defeats led to Napoleon’s downfall and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1816, David—a former regicide who had lent his talents to gilding the emperor’s image—was banished. He went into exile and spent his final decade working in Brussels.

Jacques Louis David: Radical Draftsman was organized by Perrin Stein, Curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press. A related installation, In the Orbit of Jacques Louis David: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints, on view 20 January – 10 May 2022, focuses on David’s legacy through works by his pupils and contemporaries (Gallery 690).

Perrin Stein, with contributions by Daniella Berman, Philippe Bordes, Mehdi Korchane, Louis-Antoine Prat, Benjamin Peronnet, and Juliette Trey, Jacques Louis David: Radical Draftsman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022), 308 pages, ISBN: 978-1588397461, $65.


Display | In the Orbit of Jacques Louis David

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on February 16, 2022

Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson, The Mourning of Pallas (detail), ca. 1790–93, pen and brown ink, brush and gray and brown wash, heightened with white (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996.567).

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Now on view at The Met:

In the Orbit of Jacques Louis David: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 20 January — 31 May 2022

The Department of Drawings and Prints boasts more than one million drawings, prints, and illustrated books made in Europe and the Americas from around 1400 to the present day. Because of their number and sensitivity to light, the works can only be exhibited for a limited period and are usually housed in on-site storage facilities. To highlight the vast range of works on paper, the department organizes four rotations a year in The Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery. Each installation is the product of a collaboration among curators and consists of up to one hundred objects grouped by artist, technique, style, period, or subject.

This installation highlights the broad range of accomplishments of artists working at the same time as French painter Jacques Louis David (1748–1825). Whether they emulated his manner or sought their own paths, shared his political beliefs or condemned them, artists of this period could hardly escape the impact of David’s work.

Works on view by David’s peers, pupils, and rivals explore the creativity and capacity for transformation that marked this vital period that spanned the last years of the French monarchy, the Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, and ultimately, the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. The fast pace of political change accentuated the intertwined nature of art and politics, which permeated all levels of artistic production—from large-scale paintings to the decorative arts and fashion—as this selection of drawings and prints attests.

This display complements the exhibition Jacques Louis David: Radical Draftsman (17 February – 15 May 2022).

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