To give a body and a perfect form to one’s thought, this - and only this - is to be an artist. — Jacques-Louis David
Interestingly just one day after Ingres’ birthday comes one of his teacherJacques-Louis David, the most influential French artist of his time. David’s name equals with Neoclassicism - he almost personally put an end to rather silly art of Rococo, going back to Classic arts of (then known) Greece and Rome and Vinckelmann’s writings. After visiting Pompeii in 1779, he decided to revolutionize painting. And that he did.
Here are two very famous paintings, both masterpieces - Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife (1788) and The Death of Marat (1793), that have a connection between them other that the fact David painted them. Lavoisier was a chemist that is often regarded as “the father of modern chemistry” - he helped constructing metric system, named oxygen and hydrogen, and even put together the first extensive list of elements. His wife Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze was a pupil of David and the one who ordered this portrait; she was rather young when she married Antoine, but the marriage was extremely happy - taking interest in science of her husband Marie-Anne learned chemistry and participated in experiments, making drawings of lab work and translating scientific literature for her husband. The portrait shows all that - it is usually mentioned as the portrait of unusual intimacy and bonding, in which man and a woman are equal partners. His laboratory was the best in whole Europe and has, amazingly enough, survived to this day :)
Unfortunately this important man and scientist fell victim to the Revolution, which is where the connection to the other painting becomes clearer - Jean-Paul Marat was a French Revolutionary, a friend to the people that was the sole source of misfortune to many that lost their heads in those times, which we call, quite fittingly, Terror. Among them was unfortunate Lavoasier whom Marat personally charged and with more than silly charges too - he, among other things, accused him of not letting enough air flow with his very high walls. Lavoasier was, of course, found guilty and eventually guillotined at the age of 50. The Republic needs neither scientists nor chemists; the course of justice cannot be delayed. said the judge; mathematician Lagrange however had another opinion : It took them only an instant to cut off his head, he said, but France may not produce another such head in a century.
The Death of Marat was an icon of the revolution, Marat becoming revolutionary martyr - and quite literary so - the painting was paraded through the streets of Paris in a manner not much different to a religious procession. He was killed by one Charlotte Corday sitting in a bathtub - in which he spent most of his time due to some skin disease. Charlotte Corday pretended that she came to denounce some people, was let in and, as she planned, stabbed him. Without even trying to run away she was taken to jail, tried and executed. In later times she was to become a hero called the Angel of Assassination. Soon however the times changed again, Robespierre was killed, David himself not in favour for participating in Terror and so the painting was given back to him, Marat the martyr no longer needed or even welcome. After David’s death his closest pupil *Antoine Gros* hid it and it is now in Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, where david lived his last years in exile, after Napoleon’s demise.
It is interesting also to think why Marat wanted Lavoasier dead so much that he would fabricate such silly accusations; it all sounds almost personal, especially since it was a person more interested in science than politics. The answer is that before becoming a revolutionary Marat very desperately wanted to become - a scientist. He tried very hard to achieve this in many ways, but to no success. As far as I understood it he even came to Lavoasier with some of his ideas, but was almost laughed at. It is possible that Marat really had a personal grudge against the chemist.
David was first backed by the Academy and aristocracy, then by revolutionaries - Robespierre being his personal friend -and then by Napoleon too; his political involvement - spanning from signing capital punishment lists during the revolution but then painting Napoleon’s crowning - was such that at one point even his wife divorced him. Not particularly charming man. However, his importance as a painter cannot be overestimated and his genius is not possible to deny. So - Happy Birthday, Jacques-Louis David
For another depiction of Marat’s death, the one featuring Charlotte - now as hero, see http://goo.gl/w0aBk by Baudry